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Not to, tout oA 


Meeting with Japan 




By the same author secrbt tibet 



Hotteb** 0 * 0 ’*'. 


FOSCO MARAINI 

Meeting with Japan 


Translated from the Italian by Eric Mosbacher 




HUTCHINSON OF LONDON 



HUTCHINSON & CO. (M/isterv) LTD 
mtS— 20* Groat Portland Street. London. Tj 

London Melbourne Sydney 
Auckland Bombay Toronto 
Johannesburg New York 


Published tn Italy under the title 
ORB GIAFPONBSI 


71ms book has been set tn Spectrum, printed tn Great 
Brtiatn on W'htie Cartridge pap er by The Anchor 
Press. Ltd., and bound by T Pm. Brendan & Son 
Ltd., both of Ttptree. Essen. The illustrations were 
pruned by Leonardo Da Vine* Edttrtce tn Italy . 



L’Europe, a diverses reprises — avec Alex- 
andre le Grand, avec Marco Polo, au 
seizi&me siecle, — a decouvert l’Asie orientale, 
et chaque fois ce fut une surprise nouvelle, 
comme s’il s'agissait d’une plan£te diff6rente. 
Chaque fois, en effet, nos classicismes m6di- 
terran^ens avaient l’impression de se trouver 
en presence de classicismes analogues, 
quoique formes d’dlements Hi premiere vue 
incomprehensibles. Dans l’Inde. en Chine, 
pour ne citer que les foyers originaux, 
s’etaient constitutes des ‘socittts parfaites’ 
avec des philosophies, des literatures, des 
arts formant un tout en soi. 


rene grousset: Bilan de VHistoire 



Photographs by the author, except Nos. 
28, jj, 81, 82, which are from Japanese sources. 
Drawings by Makino Yone, Moriya Tadashi, 
S. Pannuti. Original ideograms by Moriya 
Tadashi and others. Japanese title: Zuihitsu 
Nippon, 'Japan, following the brush on the 
paper, letting memories write themselves’. 
Ideograms on cover by Hasegawa Luca. 



Contents 


Author’s Preface n 

1 THREE TOKYOS IN A CENTURY 

Flowering Fields of Light 17 

Temple-River; Eels 20 

House at the Foot of the Hill 23 

Plain of Green Stones 28 

Unsigned Statement 34 

2 TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 

Religions, Pleasures, Industries 38 

Zero Year and After 61 

Individual and Society 67 

Month of Music on the Roof-tops 73 

Sculptor of the Ephemeral 86 

Japonia capta ferum victorem coepit 87 

3 THE EASTERN SEAWAY 

High Priest of the Rails 93 

Car and Individual 98 

Along the Tokaido too 

The Nude in Art and Life 103 

View of the Divine Mountain 108 

Mishima: Local Colour and Local Horror 113 
Sip of Jewel Dew ns 

Puncture at Yaizu 123 

Indestructible Fortress 126 



4 WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE 

SACRED WOOD 
Precision Instrument-Making and 
Mythology u* 

In Prehistoric Style 129 

Sacred Gateway 132 

Offended Dragon 134 

Beyond the Cool Curtain 134 

Earth Born of the Voluptuousness of the 
Gods 136 

What the Kami Really Are 144 

Divinity of Nature and Orgiastic Dances 146 

Ancestors, Emperors, Politics 149 

5 BUDDHA AND BEAUTY AT 

MOUNT MURO 

Little Space, Many Places 153 

Brief Digression on Dragons 155 

The Mur 5 -ji 159 

Brief Digression on Pagodas 163 

Landscape and Frame 167 

6 ENCOUNTERS AT NARA 

Girl Who Died for Love 171 

Encounters, Old and New 173 

Youthful Heyday 181 

Drawing-room Temple 186 

Night of Typhoon 191 

Storm Without and Storm Within 196 

Empress and Monk 198 

Eighth-Century Court Relics 200 



7 .KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF 

MAPLES IN FLAME 

Between the Mount of Wisdom and the 

Mount of the Cave of Love 203 

Ascetic and Terrestrial Delights 206 

Under the Hill of Wisdom 211 

Unruly Monks of Mount Hiei 224 

Buddhist Acolyte 228 

8 AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 

The Exquisite Centuries 238 

Brief Digression on Language and 

Ideograms 246 

Japanese Wife 257 

The Transformation of Little-South 264 

The Myth of the Sword 268 

9 WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 

Zen Monastery 278 

Tao and Zen 286 

Kurama Fire Festival 292 

Hanase: Kitchen Temple 297 

Silver Pavilion 301 

Tea Ceremony 310 

10 KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 

Momoyama, Peach-Tree Hill 319 

Homage to the Great Decorators 327 

In the Katsura Garden 331 

Abstract Garden 34 i 

Night Life of Kyoto 344 

Farewell to Kyoto 351 



u SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAWA 


Climatic Contrasts 355 

Tokugawa Wedding Cake 357 

The Mean Centuries 360 

12 RED SKIES OVER NAGOYA 

The Tempaku 380 

Hunger Strike 400 

Return to Life 404 

Kosai-ji, ‘The Vast Salvation’ 410 

White Lice for Blue Blood 417 

Shoe Tree 422 

13 TOKYO FAREWELLS 

The Golden Demon 426 

Young Woman Ends Her Days 430 

Appendix 432 

Bibliography 441 

Notes on Photographs 449 

General Index 439 




Author’s Preface 

This book deals with the experiences of several years spent in a 
civilization profoundly different from our own during a period of 
revolutionary change and transformation. 

A prolonged stay in a country which belongs to the same great 
family of nations as that in which the traveller was bom and grew up 
differs from a shorter stay only in that it furnishes the mind with 
a larger number of facts, a clearer vision of the details of the total 
picture. But, if we cross the borders within which the influence and 
traditions of the classical world, Christianity, the European Renaissance, 
have been at work for centuries, there may also be a qualitative difference 
between a mere visit and long residence; we may succeed in entering 
another order of ideas, a world governed by different dimensions. The 
special correspondent comes and goes; he sees things through the eyes 
of his place of origin, recognizes the exotic, and enjoys it. But he who 
spends a substantial part of his life among people whose history might 
have taken place on another planet ends by undergoing a subtle trans- 
formation. What at first sight seemed strange becomes normal; exotic 
beings become real men, women, and children. On the one hand you 
realize the great identity of man’s terrestrial adventure, on the other the 
validity of looking at life and the world through eyes entirely different 
from our own. Both are vital in an age of shrinking distances and 
multiplying populations. How are we to live together if we do not know 
and understand each other? 

The travels which are the subject of these pages took me to the 
sources of Japanese civilization: to Ise, the scene of its earliest flowering; 
to Nara, which flourished when the first contacts were made with China 


n 



I2 author’s preface 

and Buddhism; to Kyoto, where Japanese institutions, literature, and 
arts reached their zenith; to Nagoya, the city of the Tokugawa Shoguns 
who governed Japan from 1600 to x 868 ; to Tokyo, marvel and horror of 
our century. This journey prompted me to recapitulate, stage by stage, 
the most important elements in Japanese history in the broadest sense 
of the term — politics, economics, religion, literature, the arts. I have 
deliberately avoided the pedantic aim of trying to include everything. 
Many things have been left in the shade; those mentioned arose out of 
visits, meetings, memories. But 1 believe I have not omitted essentials, 
and hope I have given the reader a true total picture. 

I propose in two shorter subsequent volumes, if I am able, to 
describe my impressions and experiences in north Japan, with its 
bearded aborigines who are now disappearing, and in south Japan, now 
famous principally for the ominous name of Hiroshima. 

I wish to mention the names of a few persons who were closely 
connected with the writing of this book, to whom it is therefore dedi- 
cated; first of all, my daughters Dacia, Yuki, and Toni, and my wife 
Topazia, for whom, poor things, ihe Far East in war-time meant more 
pain and suffering than joys and pleasures. Without my daughters, how 
much more superficial would have been my approach to a country 
which is so difficult to understand! Through them, legends, myths, 
fables, penetrated into our blood as if we grown-ups had breathed them 
ourselves in our childhood. Nor shall I ever forget the courage with 
which Topazia held to her chosen path in September, 1943* in the face 
of the miseries, humiliations, hunger, perils, of a long internment. 

Nor must I omit the name of Miyazawa Hiroyuki, one of my 
dearest Japanese friends, a companion of my studies and mountain 
climbs, whose life was cut short with blind and subtle cruelty by the 
militarist regime of his country. Hiroyuki represented the noblest aspect 
of the Japanese mind, the aspect of greatest value to the world; its 
exquisite sensibility to beauty, understood in a religious sense that is 
perhaps closer to that of the ancient Greeks than to that of the contem- 
pory west; its passionate engagement in life; its deep sense of brother- 
hood, not only with men, but with everything 'possessed of mind’ 
(as the Tibetans say) and 'not possessed of mind’. Opposed to him there 
was another facet, the crude, violent, obscurantist facet of the Japanese 
personality, which has been in continual conflict with itself for 



author’s preface 13 

centuries. I hope that the fact that it was this latter which got the 
upper hand in Hiroyuki’s case was only an absurd mischance of fate. 

Finally, there are two persons to whom I owe a huge debt of intel- 
lectual gratitude: Professor Giorgio Pasquali (1885-1952) and Dr. N. G. 
Munro (1864-1941), a philologist and a doctor, an Italian and a Scotsman, 
two brilliant embodiments of that western spirit whose supreme gifts 
to the world have been science and music. In all other fields the east can 
unquestionably claim equality or superiority, whether it be in philo- 
sophy, religion, the arts, or ways of life. But science and music are 
creations which are absolutely our own, gifts which we shall leave the 
world even if we disappear from it. Both Pasquali and Munro, though 
scientists, were devoted to music. 









Three Tokyos in a Century 


Flowering Fields of Light 

£OR a long time, 1 could not say how long, the aircraft, like a bird 
Jr resting on the wind, seemed to be gliding down from an indeter- 
minate height over a carpet of coloured lights which suddenly flowered 
in the night Patches of rich, tangible blackness appeared, surrounded 
and intersected by silver daisies. By reason of our movement which 
alternately concealed and disclosed them, they seemed to light up and 
go out again, pulsating like living things. From time to time more 
fantastically illuminated areas or concentrations appeared, festoons and 
clusters of red, green, or orange. 

The weather was bad ; the sky was filled with clouds and patches of 
mist; every now and then we vanished into a vaporous void (which 
made the aircraft bump) and emerged a moment or two later. But down 
below the soft, voluptuous carpet of flowering lights was still there; 
there was a touch of unreality about it which made it seem the work of 
a magician. We were flying over Tokyo by night. What a marvellous 
sight ! And what a strange surprise ! 

For the reader to appreciate why I was so captivated it is necessary 
to explain that Japanese towns, seen from ground-level and by daylight, 
are indescribably ugly. This applies both to big towns, like Tokyo, 
Osaka, Nagoya, and to small ones, like Hiroshima, Sendai, or Sapporo; 
it applies to them all, I should say without exception. Even Kyoto, which 
ends by turning out to be one of the most fascinating places in the 
world, is at first sight a bitter disappointment. 

17 



18 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

What is the explanation of this fact in a country so sensitive to all 
forms of beauty 1 To find the answer it is necessary for a moment to note 
some of the basic differences in the outlook of east and west. With us 
there is something essentially sunny and radiant about beauty, which 
would make it absurd to want to conceal it; it is almost necessarily 
accompanied by a certain need of bright light. When Hegel says that 
‘ das Sch&ne ist wesentlich das Geistige, das sick shmlich dussert ’ (beauty is essentially 
a material manifestation of mind) he is expressing a profound belief of 
the west. 

Keats’s ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty' illustrates another aspect of 
our western attitude. Not only must beauty shine out in the world, but 
it is linked by subtle, ancient, and deep subterranean veins with truth. 
All our aesthetic thinking, from Aristotle to Croce, turns in the last 
analysis on the relations between truth and beauty. Thus our cities 
declare themselves in squares and avenues, colonnades and cathedrals. 
Their beauty is spread out in the sun, is constructed, organic. They are 
the children of the social order and technique, but also the children 
of dialectics and geometry. 

In Japan, however, beauty is something that has to be worked for, 
earned; it is the reward for a long and sometimes painful search, it is the 
final attainment of insight, a jealously guarded possession; there is a 
great deal of vulgarity about beauty that is immediately perceptible. The 
historical links of this aesthetic approach are not so much with truth 
and understanding; they take us at once into the fields of intuition- 
illumination (satori), taste (shumi), and the heart (hokoro). In one way it 
can be called a romantic attitude to beauty; from another angle it can 
be said that, as the beautiful is always recondite, it is an aristocratic 
attitude. 

Hence it follows that to associate a town, the place where everybody 
comes and goes, the public domain par excellence , with beauty would be 
absurd. Japanese towns are always mere tools for working and living in, 
impermanent entities serving mere practical ends. They contain beauty, 
of course, but first of all you must desire it and seek it out, and then, 
perhaps, in the end it may be granted you to find it. Then, if you find it, 
it will offer you subtleties unimagined elsewhere, among secluded 
gardens and temples, or villas where the most perfect communion 
between man and his environment is achieved. In Japan beauty is like 



thk.ee tozyos in a centukt 


m 


an island, a whispered word, a moment of pure intoxication to be 
retained in the memory for even 

It is noteworthy, for example, that Japanese towns are almost 
entirely lacking in ‘smart* streets; places such as the Via Veneto in 
Rome, the Via Tomabuoni in Florence, the neighbourhood of the 
Place Venddme in Paris, Bond Street in London, or Fifth Avenue in 
New York. Tokyo has a big commercial street, the Ginza, 'the Silver- 
smith’s*, 1 with its satellites the Nishi and the Higashi Ginza, Kyoto has 
its Kawara-machi, between San-jo and Shi-jo, but they cannot really be 
said to be ‘smart’ streets in the western sense, however obvious it may 
be that in the course of time they will tend to become that. In Japan 
there are residential quarters, with quiet avenues where walls and gates 
barely allow you to guess the existence within of an elegant luxury that 
refrains from the slightest hint of display; and there are smart amuse- 
.nent quarter* which suggest and hint rather than say and show. But 
the streets are mere traffic arteries, a part of the urban physiology, not 
a complement and continuation of the drawing-room and the theatre, 
or sometimes of the alcove. All this opens unexpected glimpses into 
habits of secrecy, exclusion, withdrawal, and also of aristocratic con- 
tempt for luxury; a world of private gatherings of persons to whom 
the public gaze is abhorrent; a life lived in isolated cliques and groups; 
small coteries of initiates, the elect, those favoured with special privileges. 
The street? Why, it belongs to everybody, and hence by definition 
cannot be elegant, delicate, civilized. 

No one will ever convince me that the Japanese do not take an 
involuntary pleasure in the slovenliness with which they build their 
towns, as if to surround and protect their real treasures with a thick 
layer of ugliness. The ugliness of their streets, which are indiscriminate 
jumbles of huge hideous structures of reinforced concrete and of huts, 
revolting hovels, and houses of every conceivable style, covered with 
advertising slogans and invariably disfigured by huge telegraph posts 
with untidy tangles of wire, has to be seen to be believed. 

Tonight, however, I discovered in a Japanese town beauty which 
nobody could conceal; beauty that rises from the earth into the sky 
when dark sets in ; interminable fields of flowering lights, deep meadows 

1 Also 'Hint*. The js derived fromJhe fact that silver coins were minted in the Immediate 

neighbourhood from if* onwerds. 



10 MISTING WITH JAFAN 

which are the scene of secret carnivals. What a delightful surprise! 
Thank you, Japan, for this first welcome. 

Temple-River; Eels 

We landed to the accompaniment of a terrific splashing of water, which 
was illuminated by the aircraft's headlights and crashed against its 
metallic structure. Frankly, it was a relief. In spite of all the confidence 
that one may have in electronics and its mysteries, it is always slightly 
uncomfortable to feel oneself at the mercy of night and storm in several 
tons of mechanism suspended in the sky. 

But now we were on terra firm. They opened the door, and we got 
out; and here were the first Japanese sounds, smells, voices. After so 
many years’ absence, it was very evocative. I felt very moved, though 
afraid of being disappointed. So many people had told me that Japan 
was spoilt, that the young had ‘gone American* and chewed gum, and 
that the old were disillusioned and no longer thought about anything 
but money. Would this turn out to be true or false! I took deep breaths 
of the air of my second country, the country in which I had lived and 
suffered for so long, where my daughters were born, the air of this 
eastern Hellas which has the gift of putting those who have once loved 
her under a permanent spell. 

I quickly completed the customs and passport formalities. How 
smoothly they went! Times seem to have changed greatly; in a few 
moments it was all over. Even my collection of photographic apparatus, 
my cine-camera, the many boxes of film I had brought with me, passed 
without question, almost without a glance. How different it was the 
first time 1 arrived in Japan, in distant 1938 ! Then you were subjected to 
interminable inspections, interrogations, the most minute customs and 
medical examinations — even your faeces were examined; you had to 
give the names of all your close and distant relatives, and if it turned 
out that you had, or had had, a connection with any army or political 
party or international organization, it was just too bad. Finally you had 
to make a complete list of all the books and other printed matter you 
had with you. 

Half an hour later— that is the time it takes from Haneda (‘the field 
of wings') to the centre of the city— we stopped outside a Japanese 
restaurant. The old man who opened the door looked as small and 



THREE TOKYO* IN A CENTURY It 

twisted as a joo-year-old dwarf tree. ‘Irastaf (Come in, welcome), he said. 
Most Japanese restaurants serve only one or two specialities, with various 
accompaniments. Here we were in a habayala-ya where the speciality was 
roast eels on rice with soya sauce. Actually it was the most famous 
and venerable kabayaki-ya in Tokyo; there was something subtly rural 
about the entrance (though we were in the centre of the city), almost as 
if we were in a Tuscan villa. One side of the paper-and-bamboo lamp 
displayed the two ideograms for the word Miyagam (palace-river) 
written with faultless calligraphy; they are among the most harmonious 
of all ideograms, because of the balance between the brush-strokes and 
the empty spaces. 

Outside the dark wooden fence which bounded the area occupied 
by the restaurant and its garden there was the infernal 
d'n of motor traffic and the clanging of trams, but 
aere it was qviet and still; there was a mere penumbra 
of sound, and everything was small, delicate, exquisite. 

Everything that might suggest unpleasing, violent sen- 
sations was rigorously excluded; all that remained was 
wood, paper, old stone made shiny by much polishing. 

Inside the gate we had found ourselves in a small 
garden, contrived with such cunning irregularity that it 
seemed possible to lose one’s way among the shrubs and 
the dwarf, twisted pine-trees. Dotted along the paths, as 
if by chance, were six or seven little one-room wooden 
huts, each ready for a party of guests. Each was a little above ground- 
level, and before entering you had to remove your shoes; the floor was 
covered with tatami, soft mats made of shiny, regularly laid strew. 
Tatamu in Japanese means to roll up, and in ancient times tatami were 
undoubtedly mats which were simply unrolled and laid on the floor, 
but in the course of time they developed into a kind of shiny, polished, 
perfumed vegetable mattress, fixed to the floor. 

It was late, and few customers remained; in one of the huts only 
did I see a party of young men, singing cheerfully. The jochu-san ('Miss 
Waitress’) came hurrying towards us, and led us towards a pavilion at 
the bottom of the garden. We slipped off our shoes and squatted on the 
floor. 

'Maraini-san, sit here, I insist on your taking the seat of honour.’ 




32 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

'Certainly not, Bamba-san, the seat of honour is yours, and you 
must take it.' 

It was necessary to get used to the exchange of such compliments 
again. In Japan the place of honour has a special meaning. In every 
room there is an alcove, a tokonoma, reserved for one or two beautiful 
things— a painting, a poem written in delicate hieroglyphics, an old piece 
of sculpture, a vase — and a few cunningly arranged flowers. When the 
master or mistress of the house are persons of taste the whole is bound 
by subtle harmonies; work of art and flowers are often so arranged as 
to suggest or comment on some event, experience, or emotion, e.g., 
arrival, pleasure, spring, parting, love, nature, sadness, mountains, 
congratulations. The occupant of the place of honour sits with his back 
to the tokonoma, so that to the other guests he is framed by it. After a brief 
struggle of smiles and bows I had to give in. 

While we talked, sipping our saki (rice wine), I looked round. Every- 
thing about me was wood, paper, straw, smooth, planed, unadulterated 
surfaces; no paint, nothing that concealed the grain of the vegetable 
matter; and no metal. Silence. Every now and then you could hear the 
rustle of the Jusurna (fragile doors of wood and paper) being opened or 
shut. The cheerful singing of the young men had stopped; probably 
we were now alone in the Palace-River house. 

After days and days of noise in the belly of an aircraft, after offices, 
airports, customs, hotels, conversations in all languages and storms in 
all skies, it seemed like living in a dream. 

One of my friends helped me to translate the big ideograms dis- 
played on a flag hanging in the tokonoma (there was nothing in the alcove 
but this and a thistle flower). There were four characters, and they were 
difficult to decipher at first sight. They read Hoge jaku ; perhaps the best 
translation is: 'Free yourself from attachment to useless things.' A 
supremely Buddhist maxim. The thistle was not put in the tokrnma by 
chance. 

When we had finished drinking our saki (in Japan one drinks before 
rather than with or after a meal), our eels arrived, arranged in slices on 
white rice in three rectangular black lacquer boxes. We removed the 
odorous wooden chopsticks from their paper wrappings and started to 
eat 



House at' the Foot of the Hitt 

Giorgio and I got back very late last night Our dinner of eels lasted 
along time, we drank more saU, and reached that happy state of vague- 
ness about the exact relations of spatial co-ordinates that leads to the 
opening of hearts. 

This morning I was awakened late by a thin ray of sunshine which 
penetrated into the dark room. Air travel is tiring to the nerves; you 
notice only afterwards the unexpected bill you have to pay in the form 
of physical exhaustion. Giorgio's housekeeper, Abe-san (in Japan every- 
body is san, «.e., Mr., Mrs., Miss), came and opened the amado, the wooden 
doors of Japanese houses which are shut at night, and brought me a cup 
of tea. ‘O-furo dekitayo,’ she said (The honourable bath is ready), and then 
knelt beside my futon (bed-clothes, Photograph ns) and opened a fusillade 
of questions -bout my health, my journey, my family in Italy, etc., etc. 
All this was part of Japanese politeness; questions which strike us as 
unpardonably inquisitive, such as ‘How old are you?' or ‘Are you sorry 
you have no sons?’ are the most ordinary thing in the world in Japan, 
and are meant to demonstrate the respectful interest that the inquirer 
is taking in you. Etiquette does not, however, require a precise answer. 
An acquaintance you meet in the street, for instance, is almost certain 
to ask you where you are going, but the requirements of politeness are 
fully met if you answer: ‘Eh chotto’ (Just over there 1) 

After a final stretch and yawn I got up, put on a yukata (light cotton 
kimono), and went to the bathroom. The bath is another domestic 
feature in which the Japanese have the advantage over us. In the first 
place a Japanese bathroom is not, as it is too often with us, a cold, 
metallic, tiled place containing a bath; rather is it a kind of extension 
of the bath itself, in which everything possible is made of that warm, 
comforting, restful substance, wood. The bath itself is usually wooden, 
and when warm gives off a delightful scent of pines; and you do not lie 
in it, you sit; it is a kind of miniature swimming pool. It seems impossible 
that such a minor detail should make such a big difference. Can lying in 
warm water and sitting in it have different effects on the circulation and 
therefore on the general sense of well being? The fact remains that nearly 
all westerners in Japan infinitely prefer the Japanese bath to the Euro- 
pean. You emerge from it rested, refreshed, at peace with the world. 

» 



34 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

Moreover, the Japanese approach the bath in an entirely different 
spirit In the west after nearly two thousand yean of opposition from 
the various churches, the bath was reduced, not long before the present 
age, to its mere hygienic or medical function, i.e., the removal of the 
surface dirt of the body when its effluvia became offensive to the nostrils 
of othen; and it was used as a cure for certain affections. Am I wrong in 
suggesting that the western custom of lying in the bath was medical 
in origin? True, for a century we have been reacting against old pre- 
judices, but in these things fundamental attitudes change slowly, and 
everything connected with the body touches fundamental attitudes at 
their most sensitive spot. Nowadays the bath has resumed importance 
in our lives, but as a barely tolerated concession, a challenge to deep 
emotional attitudes. It is surrounded with bolts and locks and glazed 
windows, and is only too often hidden in the least sunny and attractive 
room in the house. Bathrooms are still designed on the assumption that 
you enter them with your clothes on and keep them on, taking them 
off only for the brief time necessary for immersing yourself in a tiled 
or metal coffin in which you simmer for a few minutes in a brew of 
your own dirt. 

In Japan, however, the ultimate origins of the bath are religious. 
The bath is a domestic aspect of ancient purificatory rites (yuami, misogi) 
which from the earliest times were an essential element of the Shinto 
cult . 1 Now, in the last analysis, every expression of religious feeling is 
a joyful thing; when man feels, however indirectly and remotely from 
his conscious, that he is in harmony with God, with the gods, the 
invisible, he is happy, at peace with himself and with others 

The Japanese bathroom is consequently an inviting, welco ming 
place, in which it would be bad taste to hurry, or to hide oneself, or in 
any way to inhibit restful relaxation. The water is heated simply and 
ingeniously, in a middle-class house generally by a small stove outside 
the room, but in more modest or poor houses by a stove that is partly 
in the bath itself. Finally, the floor is always so constructed that the 
water flows rapidly away ; and you wash yourself outside the bath, using 
a bucket or basin to pour warm water over your shoulders and your 
head 'without fear of wetting the furniture’; thus you wash all the dirt 

• ‘Actual personal din wu considered d is respectful towards the gods.'— W. C. Aston, SUM 
London, sees. p. see. 



THEEB TOKYOS IN A CENTUEY 15 

away with the soap (Photograph ns). Then, when you are perfectly 
clean, you enter the bath to warm yourself, relax, meditate, sing, or 
perhaps to resume your conversation through the thin walls with those 
in neighbouring rooms. 

A thing that always and with good reason shocks the Japanese is 
having bath and lavatory in the same room— another thing which 
points to our purely material, hygienic, medical attitude towards the 
bath. The Japanese always separate lavatory and bathroom; they never 
indulge in our deplorable confusion of essentially different functions. 
In Japan the bath originated with ritual purification, hence it is a posi- 
tive, pleasurable act, an essential ingredient in the rest and refreshment 
which a man takes after the toil of the day, a function as important and 
vital as sleep or meals. 

It is characteristic, for instance, that with us no time of the day is 
i>y immemori '' usage consecrated to the bath; you generally take it in 
a hurry, in the morning or in the evening, and plenty of people only 
take it every so often. When you say someone is having a bath there is 
generally an implied apology in the statement. Our eating customs, 
which go back for many generations, are far more sacrosanct and 
universal. In Japan the time between five and seven in the evening is 
sacred to the bath, as, indeed, it was in ancient Greece and Rome. You 
go home, take your bath in comfort, change into your ample oriental 
robes, and then you have your evening meal. This applies universally 
to rich and poor alike. In my Japanese travels I have seen dwellings of 
every conceivable type; even the huts of the most poverty-stricken 
peasants or labourers had their o-furo (honourable bath); in the wprst 
cases there would be a big basin in which you washed as best you could. 
But there was never a complete lack of facilities. 

It is also worth mentioning that while with us there are no tradi- 
tional popular customs, I believe, connected with the bath, Japan is rich 
in them. A typical example is the Boys' Festival (Tango no sdku), celebrated 
annually on May 5. On this occasion a long pole is erected outside 
houses blessed with male children, and to this there are attached one or 
more huge carp made of brightly coloured material (hri-vobori) which 
swell in the wind and seem to be vigorously swimming against the 
invisible current ; the carp is a universally recognized symbol of strength, 
energy, and will-power, to say nothing of long life. Inside the house 



K MEETING WITH JAPAN 

miniature armour and swords, or dolls representing armed Samurai 
ready for action, presents to the children, are displayed on shelves 
specially put up for the occasion. Special sweets called shimaki are eaten 
to the accompaniment of saki, to which shobu , a medicinal herb, is added; 
and leaves of shobu, which is a kind of Florentine iris, are added to the 
bath, because of the strengthening and purificatory virtues traditionally 
attributed to them. Similarly on December ij, on the occasion of toji, 
the winter solstice, every good housewife prepares a bath with yasu, 
the juice of a small, scented orange which is said to bring fortune, 
purify mind and body, and be beneficial to health in various ways. 

The Japanese system of immersion in the bath after cleaning one- 
self also has the advantage of economy, for it enables the whole family 
to use the same hot water. Normally the first to enter the bath is the 
head of the family, followed by his wife and the young children, fol- 
lowed by the other children, followed by the servants. The bath is also 
naturally a social occasion. I do not refer here to the innumerable 
public baths which round about five o’clock in the afternoon take the 
place that is taken at different times of the day with us by the cafe or 
the inn, but it is worth mentioning that the very common sharing 
of the daily bath by persons of the same age and sex often has about 
it the quality of a fraternal agape. 

Naturally all this assumes an attitude to nudity that is different from 
ours, a healthier, serener, less morbid attitude. That is a subject to which 
I shall return later. Here I shall mention only that, while in the west the 
nude generally awakens responses connected with sex, in Japan nudity 
is accepted with fewer complications. 

After my bath I went back to my room. What a delicious house it 
was! A pavilion of wood and paper, with shiny, nearly black tiles, set 
among gardens and woods at the foot of a hill, reminiscent of old 
Chinese paintings. The arrangement of the rooms round the little 
garden was perfectly worked out The whole house was turned out- 
wards towards nature (Photograph 96). There was no trace here of the 
dividing line which the western house draws so firmly, seeming to tell 
nature that she is all very fine, but must stay outside, for it is the business 
of the house, with its solid walls, its locks on the windows and bars on 
the doors, to protect its occupants. Here it was different. In the warm 
season the wooden outside doors (amado) and the inside wooden and 



TR1.EE TOKTOS IN A CENTU1T 


V 


paper doors (shoji) could be entirely removed, and then the rooms 
opened straight on to the surrounding foliage, flowers, and trees. 

We were near the centre of Tokyo but, thanks to the fortunate 
disposition of the surrounding hills, the noise of traffic hardly reached 
us. Tokyo is not only one of the most populous cities in the world, it is 
also one of the most extensive. Twenty miles separate the outermost 
suburbs of Kawasaki and Kawaguchi; that is because the Japanese, 
though they consent to work in concrete boxes many storeys high, 
wisely decline to live in them. 

The garden in front of me was typical of thousands of others. What 
do we do when we make a garden! First of all we fill the whole space 
with geometry— here a path, there a flower-bed, there a bench or 
fountain — until every square inch is composed and regimented. Here 
architect and gardener have expended just as much time and energy to 
Attain a dianv .ncally opposite effect. At first sight you might be in the 
clearing of a wood. Then you realize that you are surrounded by the 
work of man, but that the artist’s aim was the unobtrusive recreation of 
nature. There is no geometry here; or rather there is a secret, infinitely 
non-Euclidian and subtle geometry, a secret harmony that the mind 
seizes before the intelligence. Everything is irregular; the shape of the 
central lawn, as soft and green as the strange skin of a sea monster, the 
shape of the flat blocks of granite taken from the bed of a mountain 
stream, the arrangement of the azaleas, the jasmin, the gardenias, the 
clumps of bushes that rise gently towards the pines and maples which 
hide the boundary wall and the neighbouring houses and form a 
framework for the sky. The harmony of the whole strikes one Im- 
mediately. 

The interior of Giorgio’s house is almost entirely Japanese. There 
are tatami in every room. In my room there is a handsome tokonoma with 
an ancient Korean vase and a view of mountains rising over a bamboo 
wood. A special concession to the west is a small table and chair for 
working at. I confess that this gives me pleasure, for with all my love of 
eastern things I have never succeeded in writing or reading for a long 
time while squatting cross-legged on the floor. Domestic utensils and 
furniture, as well as the many objets i'art of Giorgio’s collection, are 
enclosed in wall cupboards, as is the custom. The Japanese home 
(Photographs 91-98, n6-u9) is distinguished by simplicity, elegance, a 



JB meeting with jaean' 

•light touch of asceticism — the living, century-old expression of many 
ideas which we imagine we have only just discovered, which we think 
still belong to the future . 1 

Plain of Green Stones 

Today I walked about Tokyo for the first time. As soon as I got out of the 
shosen (underground) I was surprised at the number of new houses and 
new concrete buildings, at the speed with which Japanese reconstruc- 
tion had taken place, at the liveliness of the streets and, at any rate 
superficially and at first sight, the general impression of prosperity. 

I was unable, however, to efface from my mind the picture of Tokyo 
as I saw it immediately after the end of the war. I arrived there at the 
beginning of September, 194}, from Nagoya, shortly after my release 
from two years’ internment. It was a desolate sight indeed. Around 
Marunouchi, the financial centre of the city, a few big concrete build- 
ings were still intact (the allies seemed deliberately to have spared them 
in order to have offices from which to govern the country efficiently 
after their arrival), but the huge expanses of dwelling-houses, little 
shops, and stores of upper and lower Tokyo were razed to the ground; 
there were not even the mountains of rubble which were to be seen 
in the bombed towns of Germany; the wooden Japanese houses had 
gone up in flame and smoke, leaving the ground strewn with black dust 
and spent embers. The eye wandered over acres and acres of grey desert, 
with here and there some broken crocks, strange green stones (piles of 
melted bottles), pieces of twisted metal barely covered by rampant 
vegetation which had managed to germinate between one air-raid and 
the next 

In all this desolation only three things stood out: the surviving 
kura, or strong-boxes, shaped like little houses and made of brick or 
concrete and therefore resistant to fire, used by the Japanese to keep 
their valuables in; the many empty, rusty safes, with doors removed 
from their hinges, looking like imperfectly fossilized monsters, which 
marked the sites of former shops and offices; and, finally, the innumer- 

1 Profesor Walter Gropius remarked In an Interview In the Asa M Bmm§ News (Tokyo, June h, 
1954) that all the elements In the design of the modern house for which he and his fellow- 
architects had fought— close correlation between interior and exterior, movable partitions 
between the rooms, and other things as well— were present in the Japanese house. 



TK&BB TOXTOS IN A CBNTUXT 


able concrete troughs, which were supposed by the government of the 
time to hold enough water to put out the fires caused by the bombs. 
Here and there charred trees raised their crippled branches towards the 
sky. In the distance a tram, visible as if it were in open country, crossed 
the devastated plain. 

Tokyo was devastated by fire in 1601, 1637, and 1772, and in the twen- 
tieth century has been almost completely destroyed twice: in 192) by 
one of the most violent earthquakes recorded in history, and then again 
by the air-raids of 1945. Buildings that date from before 192) and have 
survived both cataclysms are rare enough for tourists to go and look at 
them. 

Much has been written about the 1921 earthquake; it is sufficient to 
recall that 60,000 persons died; most of them were burnt alive, not 
crushed by falling masonry.' The earthquake struck the city exactly 
•1 midday on September 1, when the fire to cook the rice was alight in 
every house. Within two hours the city was blazing like a great funeral 
pyre. How often have I heard people who experienced that catastrophe 
talking about it! Here I shall mention only one episode. At Yokohama 
somebody noticed a woman’s hair apparently growing out of the 
ground like grass. The explanation was that a great crack had suddenly 
appeared in the roadway, into which a child had fallen; the child’s 
mother jumped in after it to try and save it, and the crack then 
closed. 

As for the destruction of 1945. few are aware that the carpet bombing 
between March and May of that year worked more havoc and claimed 
more victims than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. The raid of March 
9-10, for instance, started at about 10.30 p.m. and went on all night. 
Several hundred B.29S dropped thousands of tons of incendiary and 
high-explosive bombs on the lower quarters of the city.' The fire, fanned 
by a gale, was infernal ; next day what had been the most populous part 
of Tokyo, a hive of houses, shops, workshops, public buildings, light 
industrial establishments, was a charred, smoking plain. Counting the 
dead was always difficult on these occasions, for it was impossible to tell 

1 If the whole area affected, including places outside Tokyo, is Included, the total number of 
dead and missing as a result of the earthquake was 142,107. Soo A. Iiiamuia, The Great Earthquake 
of Si. Japan of Sept i, 1923', in Scientific Japan, Tokyo, 1920, p. 141. 

1 R. J. C butow (Japan’s Decision to Surrender, Stanford University Press, p. 141), says that f so aircraft 
took part, but eye-witnesses spoke of at least 300. 



30 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

how many bodies had been reduced to a mere patch of grease by the 
terrific heat Official documents speak of 124, m dead and missing, a 
figure much higher than that of the Hiroshima hecatomb . 1 

Between November 24, 1944, and August ij, 1943, Tokyo was raided 
seventy times; the total number of dead and missing was 136,698, and 
about 760,000 houses were destroyed out of 1,377,000; in other words a 
great part of the metropolis was wiped out It must, of course, be borne 
in mind that the ordinary Japanese house is a small wooden structure 
(the Japanese builder is a carpenter rather than a bricklayer) with 
windows and doors covered with paper; a flimsy thing compared with 
a house of brick or masonry. It has the advantage of cheapness (it costs 
about a tenth of a modern urban house in Italy); its fragile intimacy 
provides a charming home for a man and his family; and, because of 
its elasticity, it stands up magnificently to earthquakes — only the most 
violent shock will cause it to collapse. But it is also true that it is as com- 
bustible as a dry leaf in summer. The fire bogy (Photograph 28) is ever 
present in the Japanese mind, and the stranger notes alarm bells, watch- 
towers, fire stations, everywhere, in town and country alike.* 

As soon as the Americans had established themselves in the Pacific 
islands nearest to Japan, within bomber range of her big cities, the 
methodical work of destruction began, countered with diminishing 
effectiveness by a steadily disintegrating defence. The Americans knew 
well enough that a box of matches was sufficient to start a blaze among 
those acres of flimsy wood and paper, and they concentrated on drop- 
ping showers of incendiaries. The mule-headedness of the governing 
militarists imposed indescribable suffering on the civil population. They 
refused to admit that the war was going badly and, on the pretext that 
nothing must be done to spread despondency and alarm, they evacuated 
women and children extremely slowly. Only after the infernal night of 
March 10 were energetic measures taken for the evacuation of civilians 
from Tokyo. In the meantime countless women, children, and old 
people had met an unnecessary and horrible death. 

When I reached Tokyo from Nagoya life had started again. Many 

* R. Guillaln, who was present at the disaster and gives an impreafve description of it in his 
Le topic JajoaaU tt la Cutrrt (Paris, 1947* p. aoj), speaks of i97»ooo, according to Japanese secret documents* 
and of 300 bombers. 

■In old Tokyo fires were so frequent that they were called ymb ac kaaa (Yedo flowers); Tokyo 
was called Yedo until 1868. 



THUS TOKTOS IN A CENTUET V 

people had buUt themselves hutments on the she of their former 
dwellings, sometimes even with pretensions to taste, making ingenious 
use of pieces of twisted, rusty metal, half-charred wood, wire, sandbags, 
incendiary-bomb cases, old petrol cans. Grass and flowers followed, and 
everyone planted a few satsuma-imo (sweet potatoes), which send up 
vigorous shoots with leaves of a bright and cheerful green. 

Hundreds of street vendors spread their wares on the pavement; 
the more enterprising had already set themselves up in little wooden 
shops the size of a seaside bathing cabin. People were still in a daze; the 
nightmare of war had lasted so long that they found it hard to believe 
that they could move about freely again, buy an ounce of unrationed 
sweets, talk without looking over their shoulder, or simply sit in the 
sun and do nothing. The crowd still looked pretty wretched— old 
women with dishevelled hair led whining children by the hand, men 
c all ages were dressed in ragged bits of old uniform, bare-footed and 
half-naked, there were many wounded still wearing their bandages or 
with disfiguring scars. But on the whole it was an orderly, dignified 
crowd and, as I said, it seemed to be moving in a daze. 

In this crowd it would have been impossible to discover a young 
woman. Even girls of twelve or thirteen were rare; there was an absolute 
void up to the middle-aged and the old, and even these, with the osten- 
tatious wretchedness of their clothing, their untidy hair, their lifeless 
expression, seemed to be deliberately cultivating as unprepossessing an 
appearance as possible. The Japanese were experiencing the relief of 
a sudden peace, but they were also experiencing the last hours of a fear 
that was perhaps deeper, more primitive, more fundamental, than the 
fear of air-raids — the fear of the vanquished at the approach of their 
conquerors. 

For years their propaganda had painted the Americans as blood- 
thirsty wild beasts, red devils with huge hands made for throttling 
children, incomprehensible beings with the thick skin of Buddhist 
demons and rapacious eyes that lit up only at the sight of rapine and 
destruction. For months the wireless, the newspapers, group leaden, 
street leaders, had been preaching that, if the Americans landed, they 
would behead ex-service men, rape women, and abduct children. Now 
they had landed. The Emperor had called on the Japanese to welcome 
the victor’s troops, and the expression on Japanese faces was one of 



31 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

readiness to face one last and even more terrible ordeal, an ordeal calling 
for their ultimate resources of will-power. 

The first Americans had set foot on Japanese soil on August 28, 
a few days before my arrival in Tokyo ; every now and then small parties, 
still armed and in full equipment, were to be seen in the streets. The 
Japanese, with the anguished expression of a schoolboy looking out of 
the window, hoping that the master will not ask him any questions 
because he has not done his homework, pretended not to see; they 
were waiting for the last bomb to drop, for the threatened Juror americam 
to break out But nothing happened. How extraordinary! Were the 
Americans perhaps preparing their revenge quietly and in secret! It 
passed understanding. 

I too wore khaki fatigues, which had been dropped on our camp 
by the Americans at the end of August. I walked through the crowd 
in Kyobashi, along the Ginza, and was able to study in detail this historic 
encounter of two peoples. The Americans were thinking: What the hell 
are these Japs up to ? So quiet, so sullen. When are the hidden nationalists going to start 
their last banzai charge ? The Japanese were saying to themselves: Hen desu 
ni! Ada wo utanai no ha? (How strange! Are they not going to take their 
revenge!) Actually the Americans had landed with the firm intention 
of giving a memorable lesson in civilization to a people who had been 
governed for so many years by a set of gangsters, and the Japanese were 
now convinced that they had been led astray and were determined to 
rely on the Emperor’s wisdom. But neither knew that the other was 
sincere. 

I felt like shouting from the house-tops, telling them not to be silly 
but to drop their mutual suspicions, for peace, real peace, had come. 
But shyness forced me to continue my walk in silence, watching what 
was happening all round me. I noticed that the crowd insensibly grew 
thinner at my approach, as might happen at the approach of someone 
with an infectious illness, or perhaps a personage of great importance. 
As long as I held my peace everybody’s expression was that called 
shiran-hao (’the face of once who knows nothing’). But, when I stopped 
for a brief conversation about their wares with one or other of the 
street vendors, after the first few words in Japanese their faces lit up in 
a smile— a slightly too obsequious smile, alas! — and their breath came 
in nervous, short pants, rather like a dog not sure whether he is 



THREE TOKYOS IN A CENTURY 


35 


going to.be stroked or given a bone, or whether he is going to get the 
whip. 

'Oh! You speak Japanese? Have you been in Japan before?* 

'Yes, but I’m not an American. I was imprisoned here during the 
war.’ 

*Ah so dm ha ! Ah so desu ha ! But you must know the Americans. What 
will they do to us now?' 

‘Don’t be silly, what do you expect them to do? They’ll execute 
Tojo if he doesn't commit suicide ’ 

'Of course, of course, but what will they do to us poor people?' 

‘Don’t worry, they won't do anything at all; they may even help 
to set you on your feet again. The war wasn’t against you, but against 
the gunbatsu, the military clique !' 

‘Yes, so they say, but can you believe them?* 

‘Of course* dai-jobu sal* 

When 1 walked on, a crowd closed round the man immediately. 
They wanted to know what the ‘American’ had said, and he told them. 

I was happy to make my small contribution to reassuring them. 

There was the same scene in reverse when I met some Americans. 

‘Hey, you, what unit do you belong to?’ 

‘None, I’m a civilian internee. You freed me three weeks ago.' 

They wanted me to explain what these Japs were up to, as I presum- 
ably knew them. For years the Americans had fought them all the way 
across the Pacific; they had fought like devils incarnate, and when there 
was no way out they flung themselves at you with their pockets full of 
bombs, preferring death to being taken alive. But now they were behav- 
ing like lambs. 'It just doesn't make sense, you see!’ Weren’t they pre- 
paring to stab the Americans in the back as soon as they discarded their 
arms? What did I think? 

I did my best to explain that it was no good trying to judge the 
oriental mind by our own standards, that to the Japanese the Emperor’s 
word was sacred, that he was like Pope and President in one. When the 
Emperor had told the people to fight, they had fought; now he had told 
them that they had lost, and that they must behave with respect towards 
their conqueror, and they obeyed him implicitly. 

With the passing of the days the Americans and the Japanese, like 
puppies who were still suspicious but wanted to play with each other, 
c 



34 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

started sniffing each other a little more closely. Finally, I cannot 
remember exactly when, but I think it was at the end of September or 
the beginning of October, the magic spark struck, and confidence 
started returning on both sides. Women and girls reappeared in the 
streets, at first in dull, dark clothes like penitents, then in brighter 
colours, and finally in the full glory of their gayest kimonos, which had 
somehow survived the air-raids and the fires and all the other hazards 
of war. 

The ordeal had lasted for so long that the sudden return to nor- 
mality was the richer and the more delightful. The summer ripened 
slowly, and autumn was at the gates. Autumn is the most delightful 
period of the year in Japan; the sky is nearly always blue, the heat is not 
disagreeable, the chrysanthemums bloom in a hundred extraordinary 
shapes, the leaves of the mrniji, the maples, begin to redden. Wounds 
started to heal; the human race seemed to be emerging from an age of 
torment that had lasted for centuries. In a short time Tokyo became 
animated, gay, even festive. The streets filled with jeeps and allied 
vehicles; the first American soldiers fraternized with Japanese girls. It 
would not be long before legions of black marketeers and other un- 
savoury gentry sprang up to exploit a victor who was unprepared and 
too easy-going, before prostitution grew rampant and brothel-keepers 
bought up girls left homeless by the war to offer them to the American 
troops, before monstrous cities of black marketeering and vice rose 
around the American camps. But for a brief moment we enjoyed a peace 
and serenity such as we could not remember for years past and would 
remember for years to come. It was peace in the fullest sense of the 
word. Victors and vanquished met in their common humanity and 
looked to the future like children returned to health. 


Unsigned Statement 

During this period a telegram announced the arrival of Miki, the nesan , 
'elder sister* of our daughters, their former nurse. She came to visit us, 
loaded with cheap but precious gifts, after a long and difficult journey 
from her village in the province of Hiroshima. Her husband had had 
the misfortune to be at Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped 
and, though not in the direct path of the radiation, was still very ill. He 



THREE TOKTOS IN A CENTURY IS 

had lost all his hair, his teeth were falling out, and he was suffering from 
an alarming prostration. Miki therefore proposed to stay with us and 
the children for only a few days and to take Yuki (our second child, bom 
in Hokkaido) back with her, ‘to give her good country air to breathe 
and to feed her up’, as indeed she did. 

1 do not remember exactly how the Uriu, that is to say Miki and 
her husband, entered our lives. I only know that one day we found 
them in our house at Kyoto, and that they remained our neighbours 
for years. They were childless; he was a man of about forty, an attractive 
idler, a ne’er-do-well with a latent capacity for intrigue which was the 
result more of a romantic temperament than anything else. Some years 
earlier he had inherited a considerable sum of money, but had drunk, 
sung, and gambled it away. Then he had tried his hand at journalism, 
but journalists have to work by the clock, 'and if the sun comes out and 
1 want to lie H .,n in a field, what am I to doV He had ended'upasasort 
of assistant odd-job man in an office of Kyoto University. 

Among the various jobs he had done in his time had been that of 
omuko-san (‘honourable shouter of cries from the gallery’). He set great 
store by his memories of this theatrical, almost professional, period of 
his career, and used to talk about it on every possible occasion, par- 
ticularly to strangers. It should be noted that in the Japanese kabuki 
theatre, which, because of the undisputed favour which it enjoys with 
all classes of the population, might be compared with the opera in 
Italy, the success of a performance is demonstrated, not only by ap- 
plause, but by exclamations of encouragement, praise, or admiration 
which generally come from the gallery. It is apparently exceedingly 
difficult to judge the correct moment for making them, and much 
experience and sensitivity is needed; the omuko-san have thus become 
almost professionals, and are members of a club, or ‘craft’, to whom the 
management sends free seats. Moreover a certain amount of education 
is required; the omuko-san are generally small business men, sons of 
prosperous families, known and popular figures in the neighbourhood. 
The players say they act better if they arewell supported by the omuko-san, 
and rumours of collusion between the two are always rife. One of the 
favourite cries is ‘ Matte imashita /* (I was waiting for you !) Another is *umai-ioV 
(bravo!) Sometimes, when an aqtor makes a mistake or stumbles over 
his lines, the terrible cry * daikon * is heard. 



)6 MEETING ▼ITH JAPAN 

I write at this length about the worthy Uriu because he is a specimen 
of a fairly common type of Japanese that is the direct opposite of the 
stereotyped picture that many people have in their minds. It is true that 
in general the Japanese are industrious, methodical, obedient to every 
conceivable kind of authority, provided that it is properly constituted 
authority, which always has a numinous quality in their eyes. It is these 
characteristics which in nobler and more generous (and rarer) natures 
leads to heroism and self-sacrifice and in meaner and pettier natures 
(which are so much more common) leads to pedantry, police stupidity, 
conformism. But there are many other aspects of the Japanese character. 
One of the commonest and most agreeable of what I might perhaps call 
the unstandardized Japanese types is the improvident idler, wastrel, and 
misfit, who loves nature, cherry blossom, the red leaves of the maples, 
outings in boats, sdki, women, and cheerful companionship, and every 
day makes good resolutions to change his ways but ends by dying in 
poverty, still with a song on his lips. 

It is in fact this side of the Japanese character which gives Japanese 
literature its special charm, the charm of rich human experience and 
irrepressible vitality. If it were not for the diaries and caprices of exquisite 
court ladies, the love romances, the miscellanies of hermit poets, the 
poetry of great vagabonds like Bashd, the satires of Ibara, Jisho, and 
Kiseki, Japanese literature would largely be reduced to intolerable 
heroic rhetoric, pompous and stifling semi-philosophical treatises 
copied and re-copied from the Chinese, and cold and courtly historical 
apologias. Bash5, an eighteenth-century Buddhist monk and one of 
the greatest Japanese lyric poets, has rendered full poetical and there- 
fore social justice to the life of the carefree vagabond, who wanders 
from palace to palace and hut to hut and temple to temple, writing 
poems when the mood seizes him, giving his poems away, losing them, 
drinking, giving vent to his emotions, and in the last resort showing the 
life of the body to be a trifling, ephemeral incident in the real, true, 
eternal life of the mind. 

As soon as we were able to sit down and drink a cup of o-cha, honour- 
able tea, Miki told us that on the morning in October, 1943, when we 
had been taken away by the junsa , the police, troubles had begun 
for her, and her husband too. They had been summoned to the 
Kyoto keisatsusho (police station), they had been separated, and an 



THREE TOKTOS IN A CENTURY 37 

Attempt had been made to make them sign a statement saying that we 
were spies. 

At that time all foreigners were thought to be spies; it was a positive 
obsession. We were very much moved at the discovery that we owed 
our salvation to the Uriu. If they had signed that statement to get them- 
selves out of trouble, the police could have done what they liked with 
me, and, because of the well-known oriental principle according to 
which the family of a guilty man must be punished too . . . Better not 
think about it 

Miki described how she and her husband had been beaten and kept 
locked up for many days. They had even been told that I had already 
confessed to espionage on behalf of the Emperor’s enemies, so it was 
useless to continue with their denials. But Miki and her husband had 
been convinced that I had never meddled in such things. She had just 
been losing h'<j'~, particularly as she did not know what was happening 
to her husband, when the police had suddenly let them go. ‘What 
strange people!’ she remarked. But all that was over now. People 
might be poor, but at least they no longer had to live like wild beasts 
tearing each other to pieces. ‘What do you think!’ she concluded. 

A few days later she left for her village in the south, carrying Yuki 
on her back in the country fashion. 



Tokyo, World Melting-pot 


Religions , Pleasures , Industries 

N ow I have been here for several weeks, and have had the opportunity 
of exploring the city from end to end. With its 8,253*339 inhabitants 
(August, 1956) 1 it is one of the most populous in the world, and it is 
certainly the most extensive, because nearly all the houses are of one or 
two storeys only and most of them are surrounded by gardens. I have 
been able to confirm my first impression. What rapid reconstruction, 
and what prosperity! True, just as in Italy, wealth is badly distributed, 
and side by side with luxury there is poverty and want, but at least there 
is a foundation on which it should be possible to build. The shops are 
full of goods, the traffic is dense to the point of chaos, the people are 
well dressed, and they look cheerful and unmindful of past years. In 
comparison with the state in which it emerged from the war the city 
seems indeed a new creation, invented only yesterday, that had floated 
up into the light of summer from the mysterious depths of the Pacific. 
Keredomo, but . . . 

Those with eyes to see can see the old behind the chromium surface, 
the cares behind the smile. On the one hand past centuries, like the 
stumps of huge felled trees from which until yesterday all life seemed 
to have departed, are sprouting and throwing up new shoots; on the 
other hand the city is like some unfortunate person who has decided to 
confront courageously, with a song, the difficulties that are pressing 
upon him from all sides. The fascination of Tokyo, the cross-roads of 
the world, lies in its taste for life, however confused and disoriented it 
may be. 'Chicago, 1 it has been said, ( is stupefying ... an Olympian freak, 
a fable, an allegory, an incomprehensible phenomenon . . . monstrous, 
multifarious, unnatural, indomitable, puissant, preposterous, trans- 
cendent . . . throw the dictionary at it !*• All that, and more, could be said 

1 According to the statistical department of the Prime Minister’s office, in 1945 the population 
had shrunk to about three millions. 

a J. St&bet, quoted by J. Gunther, Inside USA., New York, 1947. 

38 


TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-FOT 


of Tokyo. Chicago is, after all, the product of a single civilization, that 
of the west, and the vocabulary with which it confronts you is funda- 
mentally Indo-European. But here we are confronted with a world 
synthesis. Here there meet and mingle the twenty-six civilizations of 
Toynbee, the eighteen religions of Turchi, the five kalpas (Buddhist 
cosmic eras), von Eickstedt’s thirty-eight races and sub-races of mankind, 
the fifty-six ways of making love of the Kama-sutra, the seventy styles 
of cooking, the six perfumes, the eighty-two smells, the 120,000 stinks, 
the twelve dozen kinds of dirt, the seven wonders, the thousand lights, 
the 2,600 tongues, the thirty-four vices (with the exception of opium 
smoking), all the fantasies, and the two great principles of yin and yang 
which, according to Chinese magical ideas, generate the infinite variety 
of the world. Not for nothing has another American called it a ‘wonder- 
ful, hybrid, dissolute, noisy, quiet, brooding, garish, simpering, silly, 
contemplate c, cultured, absurd city ’. 1 

Nowhere else in the world can you see in the streets girls and 
women in kimonos, either vividly coloured or subdued according to their 
age, young women in Paris models, girls in jeans, or Indian saris, or neat 
Chinese dresses; mothers leading their children by the hand, or carrying 
them on their back, or pushing them in prams; men in shirts, in work 
happi, in the uniform of ten different armies, with their sons on their 
back (Photographs 126 , 127 ), in straw sandals, gumboots, overalls, eighth- 
century costume, in short s, rags, smart white suits (Photograph 128 ), in 
yukata, in haori, hakama and bowler hats (Photograph 125 ), or in numtsuki ; 
with black, red, or fair, hair; with almond-shaped eyes or blue eyes; 
men who drag their feet (Japanese), gesticulate (Latins), walk stiffly and 
inexorably (Teutons) or loosely and smilingly (Americans); Buddhist 
monks, Roman Catholic priests, Orthodox archimandrites, Protestant 
pastors, Shinto kannushi, Indian sadhus, huge men with long hair knotted 
on top of their heads ( sumd wrestlers), martial and agile Sikhs in pink 
turbans, human relics of Hiroshima or Nagasaki; white-shirted disabled 
ex-servicemen begging and pathetically playing some instrument while 
the victors pass with girls on their arms (Photographs 152 , 153 ); boys on 
bicycles demonstrating their virtuosity by threading their way through 
the traffic with one hand on the handlebar and the other holding aloft 
two or three layers of trays fujl of food; men-horses pulling perfumed, 

1 0. D. Ru SUL, Htn's Tokyo, Tokyo, 1953. 



40 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

heavily made-up geishas; people terrified of infection wearing surgeon’s 
masks over their faces; students in uniform, railwaymen in uniform, 
postmen in uniform, firemen in uniform, nurses in uniform; itinerant 
flute-players who hide their heads in baskets ( hmrnsS); men disguised as 
insects or corpses who dance, cut capers, or beat drums or do whatever 
else may be required to advertise some product or other ( chindon-ya ); 
sellers of red-fish (kingyo-ya), or of roasted sweet potatoes (yaki-imo), or 
a special bean paste (tofu) made up in beautiful wooden boxes; baseball 
players returning from a game; pipe-cleaners (rao-ya) pushing carts 
on which a tiny kettle is perpetually whistling; Coca-Cola sellers wear- 
ing the uniform and device of the firm; masseurs, who are generally 
blind; aged widows with their hair cut short; Buddhist nuns with shaved 
heads; scowling colonels of the reserve in kimono and bowler hat; and 
frivolous girls, often in wooden sandals, who probably belong to the 
reserve of another army, that of Tokyo’s 80,000 prostitutes, for that is the 
number that the city is said to muster. 

Only here do you see signs in so many different languages. Roman 
characters are often used with curious results, such as ‘flolist’ for ‘florist’, 
or ‘dearer’ for ‘dealer’, because the Japanese have difficulty in distin- 
guishing T from ‘r\ ‘Long “r” or short “r”?* is the question that they 
continually ask when trying to write down a western name. Once upon 
a time extraordinary things were to be seen, such as the sign ‘Ladies 
have fits upstairs' outside a tailor’s, or ‘Every client promptly executed’ 
outside a barber’s. Now, however, linguistic knowledge has progressed. 
. . . And everywhere, of course, there are cascades and festoons of ideo- 
grams. 

Nowhere else but in Tokyo are there to be seen in the shop windows 
dwarf trees 200 years old, as twisted and strange as the i,ooo-year-old giants 
of the forest, growing in tiny porcelain pots ( bonsai )\ ancient lacquer 
boxes (into), exquisitely decorated with pictures in gold, formerly used 
for keeping medicines, side by side with high-precision optical instru- 
ments (f 1.1 lenses, for instance) or the latest models of the American, 
European, and Japanese motor industries; displays of sandals for men 
and women (tori, geta), umbrellas made of paper and bamboo (kasa), 
wigs (katsura) for wives or geishas, stone lanterns (Photograph jj), stamps 
with complicated ideograms, side by side with typewriters, refrigerators, 
wireless sets, calculating machines, cultivated pearls, plastic goods. 



41 


TOtTO, WORLD MELTING-POT 

travel agencies; big department stores— Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya. 
Matsuya, Shirokiya, Matsuzakaya— where you can buy anything from 
four ounces of seaweed for your evening meal to a yacht for your next 
summer’s cruise— stand cheek by jowl with the tiny shops of craftsmen 
each specializing in one single article, which he often makes himself 
with the aid -of his family, using agile fingers which have inherited the 
skill of many generations. A kampogaku-ya, the hair-raising, sinister, old- 
fashioned, ‘Chinese-style’ chemist’s shop, displays in the window 
mummified snakes, asps, vipers, tortoises, monkeys, big bottles of 
yellow liquid containing terrifying worms that look like embryonic 
dragons, while next door the modem Japanese chemical industry is 
busy manufacturing for the markets of Asia ever new synthetic pro- 
ducts, the result of the pioneering work of the Kagaku-Kenkyo-sho, for 
instance, the Institute for Scientific Research, or the various labora- 
tories of the sc\ ^nty-eight Tokyo universities. 

The most popular of these products are pushed by furious, strident, 
publicity methods behind which there are inexhaustible imagination 
and fanatical persistence. Balloons hold aloft cascades of ideograms 
extolling this or that brand of toothpaste, electric lamp, or alcoholic 
beverage. Close to the key cross-roads of the city there rises over an old 
concrete building the Morinaga Kyarameru (‘Morinaga Caramel’) globe 
(Photograph 133), slowly rotating like a small celestial body which for 
some inscrutable reason had selected this particular spot in the universe 
for itself; and there is no lack of towers advertising this or that brand of 
butter, or saki, or rejuvenating pastilles, or beer which abolishes all 
griefs ; and acres of hoardings announce forthcoming films or revues, 
often with luscious nudes spread across the space of half a dozen 
windows. 

Meanwhile there suddenly passes in front of your nose a solemn 
procession of priests in their elegant coloured robes (Photographs 36, 
37), some on horseback accompanied by a servant holding aloft a huge 
red umbrella, others seated in little carriages drawn by gnomes dressed 
in blue and with handkerchiefs round their heads, all preceding the 
ceremonial vehicle containing the presence of the deity who is being 
honoured and preceded or accompanied by turbulent, masked devils, 
whose purpose is either to provide additional protection against the 
forces of evil or to amuse the children, nobody knows for certain which. 



42 


MEETING WITH JAEAN 

You may also chance on one of these processions while passing 
under the Mansei-bashi iron bridge; overhead the electric trains rumble 
and roar, and the ancient, traditional procession passes underneath, 
with its thin musical accompaniment like wind in the reeds. 

But these are calm and quiet processions, consisting chiefly of 
old men; the district elders never fail to attend in haori and hakama, that 
is to say in their ceremonial clothes, long silk robes with the family crest 
in miniature in the middle and high up on their backs, and in big straw 
hats decorated with small pink paper flowers. In the afternoon far live- 
lier processions take place with youths carrying the deity's palanquins 
(mikoshi) on their backs to bring a blessing to all the streets of the neigh- 
bourhood. As the palanquins are extremely heavy, not infrequently 
weighing more than a ton, frequent stops are necessary, and wooden 
trestles are placed every hundred or two hundred yards along the street, 
in front of improvised altars covered with offerings. The owners of 
neighbouring houses and shops make liberal distributions of sweets and 
wine to refresh the tired porters. It will be readily understood that after 
five or six of these stops they are often very merry indeed. 

Sometimes, for instance, at the festival of Sanja-sai, the Three 
Protectors, or Guardians, in June, revelry invades the city centre, the 
Ginza, Kyobashi, Yurakucho, Nihombashi; and the long, shiny Buicks, 
the squat Volkswagen, the little Toyopets, have to draw into the side and 
stop, or take refuge in side-streets. Even the trams come to a standstill. 
The police do what they can to keep the traffic moving, but they too are 
carried away by the occasion ; everyone wants to see, even if they cannot 
take part in it. A mob of half-naked young men, all in transports of 
excitement and egging each other on with shouts of 'washio! washio!’ 
suddenly appear from round a corner. They debouch into the street, 
then suddenly stop, turn in their tracks, revolve, agitate the palanquin, 
and then start off again, panting, shoving, shouting, putting their whole 
heart and soul into it. It is like a tornado, a boiling sea, of perspiring 
heads and shoulders (Photographs 62-66). According to an ancient belief 
it is the kami, the god himself, who guides his palanquin, and it therefore 
has to go where the kami wants it to. Does he want to run! Come on, 
then! Does he want it to rotate like a maniac! The palanquin rotates 
until the bearers nearly lose their balance. From time to time the kami’s 
sense of mischief causes a window to be broken or a shop to be smashed 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 


45 


up. Then there is a great commotion— the noise of things being broken, 
shouts, screams, laughter, curses, threats. Closer inquiry always reveals 
that the victims of these misfortunes failed to make a sufficiently gen- 
erous contribution to the expenses of the festival. The palanquins are 
numerous. The biggest and heaviest are carried by young men, but 
lighter ones (cma mibshi) are carried by parties of girls; and children 
have their own miniature toy palanquins. 

At such times the Ginza is transformed from an ugly commercial 
street into an enchanted village square; you almost expect to see jovial 
contented gods descending among people who are so devoted to them. 
It also helps you to understand many things about the Japanese, the 
strength that comes from loyalty to their ancient traditions. 

After the revelry has died away you are left alone with the back- 
ground, the buildings, and the monuments. What a chaotic jungle of 
styles ! I bel» w Tokyo possesses everything required to illustrate an all- 
inclusive history of every conceived and conceivable style of building. 
There is no big Gothic cathedral (though there is a small one), but there 
is an Indian temple not far from some impressive modern buildings, 
pagodas stand cheek by jowl with railway stations (at Ueno, for ex- 
ample), impressive ancient gateways (such as the Sammon of the 
temples of Shiba) stand next to nineteenth-century classic architecture, 
Greek colonnades, of which there are several, Russian churches, the 
Nikolai Cathedral, miniature palaces of Versailles (the Akasaka Palace), 
and it would not be surprising to see at one and the same glance the 
gentle curves of a concrete Buddhist temple and the Martian outline of 
a huge gasometer. Towering over everything else is the Parliament 
building, built in a vaguely rationalized Babylonian style. In the end the 
eye grows fond of this structure; so much so that it has ended by be- 
coming what the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty have become for 
Paris and New York— a symbol. Among other things it is the tallest 
building in Japan; in a country so liable to violent earthquakes, a height 
in excess of 200 feet represents the extreme limit of daring. 

Moreover, nothing in Tokyo is very old. Before 1456, when for the 
first time a fortress was built in these parts, the great plain of Musashi, 
as it was called, was noted only because, in the words of an ancient 
poem, ‘the moon rises, the n}oon sets, in an ocean of grass'. It was 
Tokugawa Iyeyasu, the founder of the line of military governors who 



44 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

held the monopoly of power from 1603 to 1868, who chose this spot as 
the site of his administrative capital. (Kyoto remained the country’s 
spiritual capital, the seat of the mystical, and almost mythical, imperial 
power.) It is known that in 1787 Yedo, as Tokyo was called until 1868, 
had 1,367,900 inhabitants; in other words, it was already one of the 
world’s biggest towns. 



The town plan of Tokyo is fundamentally radiocentric; irregular 
circular avenues are cut by roads— irregular too— that radiate outwards 
to subsidiary centres, such as Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ueno, to 
the suburbs and the country. The nucleus, the centre, the heart of it all, 
is the Imperial Palace . 1 Do not imagine this to be an imposing edifice, 
a turreted mausoleum, a fantastic Asian dream in marble and gold; 
a Palazzo Pitti, a Windsor Castle, a Neuschwanstein in terms of dragons 
and pagodas. The Japanese taste for sobriety here offers the world a 
memorable lesson in style and restraint. The palace as such can in fact 
be said not to exist; it seems that it consists of a series of modest villas. 
These, however, are not visible to the public; the imperial majesty is, 
however, powerfully suggested by the rustic and impressive inclined 
walls which, on the other side of a stream in which tranquil green waters 
run, mark the limits of the Chiyoda- jo, ‘the castle-field of the thousand 
ages’. All that is to be seen are a few gates, bridges, yagura (corner towers). 
Strangely twisted pines crown the glacis; for the Japanese the pine-tree, 
the symbol of eternally youthful vigour, speaks with the vividness of 
a human voice. The task of suggesting, rather than celebrating, the 
imperial presence is left to nature. 

It is round the glacis, the canals, the bridges, the entrance gates of 
the palace, that the finest views of the metropolis are to be obtained. 
Of the walls Mousset well says: 

‘Confronted with the masterly fashion with which the special- 
ists of the period piled one on top of another these millions of 

1 In Japanese Kyu-Jo. Chiyoda-Jo, ‘castle’ rather than ‘palace’. 



TOKYO, VOK1D MELTING-POT 


43 


colossal Mocks, all different, which form mass and shape without 
any cement, and curve in movements of such purity that the mind, 
when it succeeds in diverting the eyes from one of the corners, tends 
to consider a simple straight line barbarous, we are filled with the 
admiration that we have for the builders of the pyramids .' 1 

It appears, moreover, from contemporary documents that the 
curvature of the glacis of the fortesses was calculated according to 
mathematical formulae which the master-builders kept secret. The vast 
expanse between Niju-bashi and Babasaki-mon has the breadth and space 
worthy of a great capital; in the evening, when the sun sets behind the 
gardens, some of the comer towers, with their slightly curving roofs, 
in particular that called Fuji-mi Hagura, ‘the See-Fuji Watch-Tower', 
stand out against the reddening sky, together with the silhouettes of 
strange comers, laden from birth with the weight of ages. Then the 
light pales, the colours fade from pink to blue, car lamps light up like 
great fireflies searching for a way out of a dark forest. 

Some years ago a number of skeletons were discovered by workmen 
in the foundations of one of the bridges near the Imperial Palace, the 
Niju-bashi, which dates back to the time when the fortress was built for 
the Tokugawa Shoguns. Some of the skeletons were standing, others 
were reclining in various positions. In all probability they were the 
remains of hito-bashira (human columns), men who volunteered to be 
buried alive to pacify some spirit or dragon or water-god, particularly 
when building difficulties arose because of the nature of the site. Was 
this savage, barbarous! Such customs and beliefs have in one form or 
another been practically universal. Many old buildings in Europe have 
yielded up skeletons of animals, particularly cats, which were buried 
alive in the foundations to give the structure ‘strength’. Human sacri- 
fices, particularly of young children, were at one time frequent enough, 
particularly in northern countries, and the practice continued till the 
seventeenth century. E. B. Tylor, in his celebrated work on primitive 
culture, gives a long list of historically certified cases: the Nogat dyke in 
East Prussia (1463), Liebenstein Castle in Thuringia, the walls of Copen- 
hagen, etc., etc. It seems that as late as 1843. when a big bridge was to be 
built at Halle, in Germany, search was made for a baby to sacrifice on 

1 P. Motion-, UJaf m, Firte, mt. 



46 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

the first stone. The only difference, and it is in the Japanese favour, is 
that the unfortunate kito-bashira were volunteers, whose relatives were 
granted special privileges . 1 

Looking in the direction of the Ginza from the entrance to the 
Imperial Palace, you see an almost uninterrupted row of big modem 
buildings. As I have already remarked, the general architectural effect 
of the city is indescribably wretched and shoddy, and often vulgar. Very 
rarely you may chance on some corner that is coloured with memories 
and has a less commercial flavour than the rest, such as a gate that 
miraculously survived when the rest of the temple was destroyed 
( e.g ., the Zozo-ji at Shiba), or one of those stone columns that were used 
Tor finding children lost in the crowd’— names and dates were inscribed 
on them out of gratitude— or an absurd monument to some nineteenth- 
century general on horseback. You have to leave the commercial 
quarters and the traffic to find a restful atmosphere among gardens and 
villas and many of the 215 parks which the city possesses, in a semi-rural 
area that stretches for dozens of miles. 

Areas of green and tranquillity, not without some fine views, are 
to be found near the great shrine— itself hidden in greenery— dedicated 
to the memory of the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), the father of modern 
Japan. In this neighbourhood there are stadiums and playing fields. 
Apart from the traditional sports handed down from antiquity, some 
practised by small groups, others enjoying enormous popularity 1 such 
as kendo (fencing), the various types of wrestling (judo, karate , sumo), and 
archery, the people of Tokyo take a great interest in yakyu (baseball) and 
in cycle- and horse-racing. In winter snow is sometimes brought down 
from the mountains for exhibitions of ski-jumping; and in summer 
everybody swims. 

Kanda, the students’ quarter, is another in which there are corners 
of peace and tranquillity; it also possesses some interesting examples of 
modern architecture. Tokyo, though not specialized in this way as 
Kyoto, is an important cultural centre. Its State University is the supreme 
scientific institution in the country, while entrance to the Waseda, 
Meiji, or Keio private universities, and a few others, represents the 

1 Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. New York, 1914; E B. Tnoi, Primitive Culture, London 
IS 7 S, Vol. I, p. 104. 

• C. Bonacossa, Lo Sport mace in Asia. Milan, 1916. 



TOKYO, .WORLD UELTINC-POT 47 

supreme goal of the country’s studious youth. Frequently only one 
candidate in fifteen, and sometimes fewer, succeeds in gaining entrance 
to the State University. On the other hand, for those who succeed in 
surmounting this obstacle the way is open, not only to a degree, but to 
future employment and a career. Another internationally known 
university is the Sophia Diagaku, which was founded and is run by 
Jesuits. There are 78 universities in Tokyo (ij national, 64 private, 1 muni- 
cipal), but it must be pointed out that in accordance with recent changes 
nearly all the training colleges in the most diverse fieldsweregranted the 
rank of daigaku, institution of higher education, i.e.. university, and that 
there are therefore included in this category a number of institutions 
of limited importance. However, the number of educational establish- 
ments, particularly at the higher level, is remarkably high; the capital 
attracts students from all over the country, there are 97) schools at the 
st jndary level ' hugakko, kotogakko) and 9)6 at the primary level, including 
nursery schools (yochien, shogakko). School-children and students all wear 
uniform. 

A striking feature is the respect for knowledge that prevails among 
Japanese at all levels of the economic and social scale from peasants and 
clerks to bureaucrats and technocrats. Personalities like the great 
bacteriologist H. Noguchi (1876-1928), whose monument, paid for by 
popular subscription, stands outside the National Science Museum, or 
that of H. Yukawa, the physicist and Nobel prizewinner of 1949, are much 
nearer the firmament of kami than to the earth trodden by ordinary 
mortals, particularly in the estimation of youth. In spite of the supreme 
difficulty, the diabolical complexity, of learning to read and write 
Japanese, the illiteracy rate is low. 1 The circulation of the big Tokyo 
newspapers (Asahi, Mainichi, Ymiuri, Tokyo Shimbwi) is impressive; more 
than five million newspapers, morning and evening, are sold daily in 
the metropolitan area. The circulation of magazines and reviews is 
relatively equally high, especially when the number of pages (often 
more than 300) and the seriousness of the subjects dealt with are taken 
into account. Besides this there is the huge output of books; more than 
20,000 titles are published annually at an average price of 312 yen, or about 
6s. or 8je. Everybody reads (and therefore many wear spectacles); 

1 In t»j» It was 71 per cent for the whole jountry, Including the backward agricultural and 
afforested areaa In the north. 



48 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

curiosity is not limited by age or time (Photographs 128, 129, 131, 132). 
A tacit convention permits you to browse for as long as you like over 
any book displayed in a bookshop, or even to read it from cover to 
cover, provided you do not sit down; poverty-stricken but determined 
students often take advantage of this to acquire what might be called 
an apatetic culture, attained while motionless. 1 was once told the story 
of a prostitute who, between one client and the next, managed in this 
way to get through the whole of Tolstoy. 

At Kanda, the students' quarter, which is also full of hospitals and 
publishing houses, there is one of the most fascinating streets in the 
world, the Jimbo-cho, with its dozens and dozens of second-hand 
bookshops next door to one another. If Tokyo is the meeting-place of 
the world, it is here that you must come to savour the full implications 
of the description. The whole, or almost the whole, of human know- 
ledge is displayed before the eyes of the passer-by. I do not just refer to 
the hundreds of categories and sub-categories of knowledge as classified 
in the world’s great libraries, but to the joint presence of at least two of 
the world’s great civilizations with their fundamental outlook on life 
which gives meaning to man's existence here on earth; I mean the out- 
look of the western world and that of the Far Bast. London has its 
Charing Cross Road, but there the western predominance is almost 
complete; for Far Eastern books you have to go to the few specialist 
shops in Great Russell Street; the same applies to Paris and New York 
(Rome does not even exist from this point of view). But the Jimbo-cho 
presents a scene of sublime impartiality. The classics of German philo- 
sophy rub shoulders with their Indian counterparts, American engineer- 
ing or medical manuals stand cheek by jowl with French or Swiss 
illustrated histories of art, Buddhist encyclopaedias, English nineteenth- 
century novels, volumes of Chinese poetry or belles lettres, or Russian 
archaeology. All this, incidentally, reflects a people profoundly inquisi- 
tive about all things of the mind. 

Other important sanctuaries of knowledge are the big museums 
and exhibition buildings that rise on the woody hill of Ueno: the fine 
National Museum, the Metropolitan Gallery of Fine Arts, the University 
of the Arts; there are also bookshops, Buddhist temples, a padoga dating 
back to 1651, the Science Museum, the Zoo. It is here that the big art 
exhibitions take place and the traditionalists and innovators of many 



TOKYO, WORLD MILTING-fOT 


49 

races look askance at each other. The public interest in these exhibitions 
is phenomenal; on big occasions you have to use your elbows to get in, 
and then it is difficult to get sufficiently far away from a painting or 
piece of sculpture to be able to look at it properly. 

Not far from here a sudden change takes place in the metropolitan 
landscape. There is a vast lower section of the city, along the harbour 
and the mouth of the Sumida river, where canals run alongside the 
streets, or sometimes take their place. There are 1,345 miles of canal, and 
no fewer than 5,824 bridges. It is this area which forms the city's capacious 
belly; through its innumerable warehouses and markets there pass most 
of the 1,850 tons of rice, the 450 tons of fish, the 100 tons of meat (the 
proportion of fish to meat — more than four to one — throws much light 
on the Japanese diet), the 30 tons of seaweed, the 1,500,000 eggs, the nearly 

1.000 tons of vegetables and fruit that Tokyo consumes daily . 1 Here, too, 
*n apocalypti' fire spectacle (ryogoku kawabiraki) takes place annually on 
the third Saturday in July; fires released from barges moored in mid- 
stream light up the black and oily waters in a fantastic manner. 

If we next follow the Sumida, which is wide and always crowded 
with boats, lighters, sailing boats, sporting boats, small steamers, tugs 
towing long loads of floating tree-trunks, after crossing various parks 
and pleasure quarters, we end by approaching Arakawa-ku and Adachi- 
ku (ku means district), and finding ourselves among forests of smoke- 
stacks. Tokyo-to, the metropolitan area of Tokyo, is incidentally a 
curious administrative unit. It is the size of a province and includes 
twenty three urban ku, five shi (satellite towns), but not Yokohama, 
which is a provincial capital on its own account, three gun (rural dis- 
tricts), one of which includes among other things some mountains of 
great beauty which form part of the national park of Chichibu-Tama 
and at Mount Kumotori ('Cloud-Bird') reach a height of more than 

6.000 feet, to say nothing of some islets in the Pacific extending to 
Hachijojima, 260 nautical miles away. But Tokyo is fundamentally an 
industrial city, and its huge size is the result of very definite economic 
reasons. Of the two millions and more employed in the city, 10 per cent 
are employed in state offices, 18 per cent in commerce, and 26 per cent 
in industry, not including construction (6 per cent). 

In the midst of this hideous landscape— or is it a kind of landscape 

1 Ttkyc, Dal Tsfcri m Lao (Tokyo, Aspect of a Metropolis'), Tokyo, my 
D 



JO MEETING WITH JAEAN 

the beauty of which men have not yet discovered ! — among coal dumps, 
factories, corrugated-iron roofs, high-tension wires, steel fencing, oil 
tanks, smoke-stacks of all shapes and colours, and the sound of whistles 
and steam-hammers, the blaze of furnaces and sudden clouds of steam, 
after crossing an old iron bridge, which incidentally is by no means easy 
to find, we come upon a delightful little restaurant dating back to Yedo 
times, beside which, on the banks of an irregular little lake, thousands 
of Florentine irises bloom in June. This is the Horikiri-en, which was 
once in open country but was then overtaken and surrounded by the 
metropolis; its survival seems to me to be characteristic of this surprising 
city. The restaurant is of a kind of which the Japanese are particularly 
fond. The offices and kitchens are all in the main budding near the 
entrance, and you eat in one of the numerous little pavilions (bekkan) 
scattered about the garden, which is now surrounded by walls and 
houses; there is the ‘plum hut’ (ume no m a), for instance, or the ‘wistaria 
hut’ (juji-mi), or the ‘hut under the mountain’ (yama-shita), or the ‘white 
hut* (shiro-ma), or the ‘western hut’ (nishi-yama). Each one of these is like 
a little hut lost in the woods. It seems that once upon a time (fifteenth 
century!) the garden belonged to a Samurai of the name of Isogai; 
another characteristic feature is that Isogai is still the name of the family 
that runs the place. 

When you have exhausted all that the culinary traditions lovingly 
preserved here have to offer you, you may care to sample some first- 
class French cooking, which is to be found at some of the bigger hotels 
and at one or two well-known little restaurants. Or would you prefer 
the wealth and imagination of a Chinese menu, with its 300, 400, 300, 
different dishes! There is an endless list of shina-ryorya, one noted for its 
sharks’ fins, another for its bird’s nest soup, another for its carp. On the 
other hand you may desire an American meal, in which case there 
are at your disposal innumerable grills, where they serve steak, soft, 
medium, or rare, iced water, and shrimp cocktails. If, however, none of 
these interest you, why not try one of the innumerable little Japanese 
taverns each of which has its own speciality! Tempura, for instance, 
prawns fried in pea-nut oil; or sushi, raw fish and rice; or siikiyaki, fried 
sliced beef with vegetables, including bamboo-shoots; or uzura, roast 
quail, or hanpm, a cunning preparation of dogfish, or suppon, tortoises 
cooked in various ways, or fiigu, roast fish which is poisonous if cooked 



TOKTO, TOUD MELTING-POT SI 

die wrong way but is said to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Of course there 
are always kabayaki, eels; and the list could be prolonged indefinitely. 
There is also a Mongolian yurta, where they serve mutton, a Russian 
restaurant where they serve excellent vodka, several ItaUan-American 
restaurants with rivers of tomato purie; and you would certainly have no 
difficulty in finding places where you could get Korean, Formosan, or 
Indonesian dishes. But what is perhaps from every point of view the 
most delightful experience, both gastronomic and because of the 
elegance of service and delicacy of presentation, is to dine in one of those 
vegetarian restaurants (shijin-ryoriya) often to be found near the big 
Buddhist temples. There you can get such things as fried chrysanthe- 
mums as light as air, soup in which rare seaweeds float served in a 
delicately lacquered cup, herbs with poetic names in tiny porcelain 
vessels; the whole is like delicate communion with fields and leaves, 
or a wood by .uoonlight. 

Tokyo is also the city in which all, or nearly all, the religions ever 
invented by man to explain the mystery of his existence are represented 
in one way or another. When the sun rises in Tokyo it is greeted by 
Shintoists praying with joined hands and Muslims bowing towards 
Mecca. Later, in the temples belonging to eighty-seven Buddhist sects 
or sub-sects, the scriptures are read, and services, either solemn and 
splendid or simple and intimate, are held; mass is celebrated in the 
Roman Catholic chapels and services take place in the churches and 
chapels of the numerous Protestant congregations (at least thirteen are 
recognized by the Government . 1 Apart from these, there are in Tokyo 
the temples or chapels or shrines of more than twenty little-known or 
recently invented religions. You could, for instance, make obeisance 
before the Four Luminaries of Wisdom in the Tetsugaku-do, the Temple 
of Philosophy, founded forty years ago, on whose altar Confucius, 
Buddha, Socrates, and Kant are seated in serene harmony. 

Side by side with the homage of the learned to the heroes of science 
goes the homage of the people to the unseen powers. The latter is 
expressed in innumerable ways, some moving and pathetic, some 
savage and cruel, some childish and ridiculous, some surprising and 
fantastic, some poetical in the extreme. I have already mentioned some 
of the more spectacular occasiops, but all over Tokyo on every day of 

* W. L Bun a, RiUgitms itjapm, Tokyo, mi. 



St MEETING WITH JAPAN 

the year ceremonies, services, offerings, rites, dances, gestures, prayers, 
silences, testify to the most extraordinary variety of beliefs about the 
nature of the universe and the ways of influencing the mysterious 
powers that govern it. 

Every phase in the cultivation of rice is of course solemnized. In 
February the Emperor himself officiates in the Kashiko Dokoro, the 
palace chapel, imploring divine benevolence for the peasants when they 
begin the sowing; there are more ceremonies in May, when the seed- 
lings are planted out; and finally, in the autumn, there are two im- 
portant events, the kamam-sai, on October 17, when the first offering of 
the new crop is made to the gods, and the niitiame-sai, on November 23, 
the first tasting of the new crop by Emperor and people. At Tokyo, as 
everywhere else in Japan, the five traditional festivals are celebrated, 
that of the Seven Herbs (January 7), girls’ day (March 3), boys’ day 
(March 3), stars’ day (tanabata) (July 7), and chrysanthemum 'day 
(September 9). On April 8 the nativity of the Buddha is celebrated with 
processions, flowers, the dipping of holy statues in ama-cha (sweet tea), 
finally, in July according to the new calendar, 1 and in August according 
to the old, there are the three-day celebrations of the return of the dead 
to the homes of the living (o-bott). 

This takes no account of all the occasions on which the sea is 
blessed, local celebrations, from ’the day of lances’ (yari-matsuri) in August 
to ’the day of rakes to gather in good fortune’ (tori no ichi) in November. 
There are dozens of them. One of the most extraordinary is the so-called 
walking on fire (hiwatari), which takes place at various Shinto shrines 
and some Buddhist temples, generally at the end of September. I have 
never witnessed one of these, but it appears that numerous worshippers 
succeed in walking barefoot over burning embers without burning them- 
selves. In February people drive devils from their homes by scattering 
previously blessed beans everywhere, paying particular attention to the 
dark corners. In September fruit, saki, sweets and flowers are offered to 
the Honourable Lady Moon, the finest full moon of the year, and people 
meet to compose, recite, and sing. When a little girl dies at any season 
of the year her mother takes her dolls to the Kiyomizu temple in Ueno 
park and places them in the arms of a big statue of the Buddha. 

In August Buddhist monks and laymen go down the river Sumida 

1 Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar on November 9, 1S71. 



TOKYO, WOKID MEITING-FOT 


S 


in boat*, both to say prayers for the drowned and to apologize to the 
fish of river and sea for having taken their lives with rod and line, spear, 
and net. At the Oizumi cemetery, and in many other (daces, impressive 
services are held for the souls of dead cats and dogs and other animals, 
sometimes including insects. On such occasions many people visit the 
graves of cats who became famous for saving their master’s lives, often in 
highly dramatic circumstances; the celebrated Gokoku-p and Eko-in 
cats, for instance. There is actually a bridge in Tokyo, the Nekomata- 
bashi, dedicated to a cat which, with a somewhat under-developed sense 
of private property, tried to relieve the poverty of its sick mistress by 
stealing small gold objects from a neighbouring moneylender. Then 
there is the more straightforward story of the dog Hachiko which, I do 
not remember for how many years, went every evening to Shibuya 
station in the hope of meeting its dead master returning from work. The 
neighbours wer. so touched by this example of canine fidelity that they 
erected a monument to it. 

The sense of brotherhood between men and all living things extends 
also to non-living things; the east is monist & outranct. It is possible to 
chance on a full-blown service for the souls of old hats (‘during their 
life-time of service many hats have acquired personality and all should 
be treated with due reverence’ 1 ), for broken dolls, broken needles, or 
for the rich people who are ‘tormented by hairdressers to give their 
girls a Hepburn hair-cut’. 1 Or you might chance to enter a telephone 
exchange just at the time of the staff’s brief ceremony of ‘thanksgiving’ 
for the loyal service given by the apparatus which they had harassed by 
so much work. 

The whole city is full of such phenomena, sometimes inspired by 
genuine faith, most often based on mere superstition or exhibitionism. 
Apart from the big Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, the Christian 
churches, the synagogue, the mosque, the sanctuaries of Confucian or 
universal wisdom, there is hardly a street or alley without its little 
shrine, dedicated either to some well-known or to some purely local 
god. You continually come across statuettes of Jiz5, the protector of 
children; he is often covered with the clothes of children who have 

' Statement by a hitter. Stt F. di Gaiu, TUrJafm, Y okoheme, t*X, p. I*. 

•AuU Bmtiu Nut, June a, i*m. The newtpipcn pointed out, however, diet the eervfce had 
been arranged by hairdryer! end may therefore hive had < publicity upta. 



M MEETING WITH JAFAN 

died. Another very common sight in front of these shrines is two 
foxes, the emissaries of Inari, the goddess of the rice crop, of com- 
mercial success, and of success in worldly affairs. Shopkeepers, par- 
ticularly in the popular quarters, prudently insure themselves by dis- 
playing signs of reverence for every conceivable deity. You will invari- 
ably see one or two small Shinto shrines, with offerings, gohei and 
shimenawa, probably beside the wireless or television set, the telephone, 
and a rotogravure magazine open at the photograph of the latest 
Hollywood film star or the world table-tennis championship. Special 
popularity is enjoyed by the Seven Gods of Good Luck (skichi-foku-jin) 
arriving in a ship, the takara-bime or treasure ship, with a heavy cargo of 
good things— wealth, smiles, music, youth, a secure and well-nourished 
old age. One of these gods, Hotei, is the slightly vulgar individual with 
a huge fat belly who in the west is often mistaken for a Buddha. Two 
other members of this ship-borne party who are often seen alone are 
Ebisu (with a huge carp) and Daikoku (standing on bales of rice and 
carrying a miraculous hammer which produces wealth where it strikes). 
No less popular are the Maneki-neko, ‘the cat that calls’ customer and 
money, a smiling, porcelain creature with raised paw, and Daruma-san, 
a famous Buddhist patriarch of the sixth century a.d. who lost the use 
of his legs as the result of remaining motionless for eight years while 
engaged in meditation. He is represented in the shape of an almost egg- 
shaped doll; you buy him ‘blind’, that is to say, without eyes. If business 
is good, you paint in one eye, and later you paint in the other. If business 
is bad, you leave him blind as a punishment. 

At the living centre of this realm of beliefs and practices there is 
true religious feeling and poetry, but towards the edges it degenerates 
into magic and superstition, occult medicine, and fraud. Even in this 
respect Tokyo is full of surprises. In the centre of the dty, along the 
Ginza and its immediate neighbourhood, at Nihombashi, a few yards 
from the tall pylons of a wireless transmitter, in the shadow of buildings 
which house the headquarters of financial, industrial, commercial firms 
of international importance— Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Asano 
Bussan— innumerable tsuji-uranai have their booths, ready for a few cop- 
pers to advise you on how to behave when buying that piece of land, or 
during the forthcoming visit of your parents-in-law, or when you next 
meet the girl you are in love with. The whole of Babylonian, Tantric 



TOKYO, VOKLD MELT1NC-FOT JJ 

and Taoist wisdom is distilled into the words and gestures of these sages, 
in whom the Japanese have the greatest confidence. There are also 
mind-readers (mnsd-mi), astrologers who prepare horoscopes (di isha), 
hand-readers and graphologists (tesc-mi). The life of less-educated, and 
even of many well-educated, Japanese is governed by innumerable super- 
stitions, based on beliefs at which they would probably laugh if they 
were able to look at them rationally; but they keep them intact by the 
tacit consent of that subterranean level of the mind where infantile 
emotions and memories, attitudes of reverence, vague fears, vague 
hopes, hold sway. In this the Japanese are no less human than their 
brothers in other continents. Superstition is the same everywhere; only 
the details vary. In Japan there are, for instance, good and bad days for 
beginning any enterprise, and these are carefully worked out on the 
basis of a combination of the twelve animals and the five elements, 
before buikL.g a house attention has to be paid to the good and bad 
influences of directions and surroundings, and this makes the work 
of the geomancer sometimes more important than that of the engineer; 
and many people when ill have recourse to practitioners of acupuncture 
or moxa treatment, to snake-charmers and faith-healers of all kinds. 
As these sometimes succeed where orthodox medicine fails, belief in 
them persists. 

The richest concentration of these human parasites is to be found 
in such neighbourhoods as that of the Ueno station, for instance, with 
its vagabonds (rumpen), its strange shops (it has a ‘sex station’, for in- 
stance), its old-clothes merchants, abortionists, beggars, women boot- 
blacks, mahjong saloons; and at Asakusa where, next to the venerable 
Kwannon shrine, which was founded in the seventh century but has 
recently been rebuilt in concrete, haunts of amusement, pleasure, and 
vice flourish — just as they did near certain temples of the pagan Mediter- 
ranean world; there are public baths, cinemas, pachinko (amusement 
arcades), storippu (strip-tease establishments, Photograph 140), theatres 
and booths where all kinds of entertainers perform and all the pleasures 
of the fair-ground are to be found, besides some more doubtful estab- 
lishments; and the area extends all the way to the Yoshiwara, the city 
of sin which scandalized the respectable by being the first to rise from 
the ashes after the earthquake and fire of 1923, and, like a recidivist 
phoenix, repeating the performance in 1943, before even the funds had 



36 MEETING WITH JAVAN 

been provided for rebuilding essential public buildings, hospitals, and 
schools. 

Tokyo by night! Perhaps no city in the world offers such a wealth 
of ephemeral things, such a volume of perfumed nothing, such guaran- 
tees of perdition. It is the capital of samsara, ‘the vortex of becoming’, to 
use a Sanskrit phrase, a Buddhist concept which the centuries have 
enriched with a wealth of subtle meaning. It is the capital of uki-yo, ‘the 
floating world’ — a Japanese phrase for the unsubstantial and the fleeting, 
suggesting clouds at dawn, floating between the void out of which they 
were born and the warmth of day which will disperse them. Not that 
Tokyo is a city of late hours. On the contrary, people keep even earlier 
hours than in America. Work stops at four or five, followed by the bath 
and the evening meal, and at half past six, seven, or eight at the latest, 
the evening begins. Nearly everyone is home by eleven; at midnight 
only sleepwalkers are abroad. At one o’clock, save for a rare, occasional 
taxi driven by a maniac, Tokyo is like a city of the dead. 

At sunset, as soon as the light begins to fade, ugly, shoddy, chaotic 
Tokyo starts clothing itself in lights and dreams; knowing itself not to 
be beautiful, it insists at least on being fantastic. One by one the lamps are 
lit, lamps in an infinite variety of shape and colour, made of paper, glass, 
cloth, plastics, each with its own inscription and its own hieroglyphics. 
The lights dance, explode, cascade in a thousand fascinating patterns, 
the product of a bold, strange, fantastic imagination, like that of Japanese 
artists in their moments of happiest inspiration (Photograph 133). For 
a brief magic moment this electric dawn shines against the last pallor 
of the sky, and you do not know whether the display is the work of man 
or whether a lot of fantastic wiry monsters have descended from space, 
still vibrating with cosmic light, to rest among the trees and houses. 

With the coming of night Tokyo yawns and stretches, and prepares 
itself for pleasure. For those who desire pleasures of the mind, there is 
music both of east and west; opera, and frequent symphony concerts, 
conducted by world celebrities, and performances by famous soloists, 
at the Hibiya, Teigeki, Korakuen, and Dai-ichi Seimei halls; or concerts 
of complicated Japanese instruments, ga-gaku, ancient court music 
which has been preserved intact through the centuries, or symphonies 
for groups of foto, the works of the great Miyagi, a blind and modest 
genius still unknown in the west, who died recently. 



TOKYO, WOKLO MELTING-FOT St 

The theatre ranges from traditional performances of the KMH 
type (Photograph m), in which the talent of the actors and the tremen- 
dous tradition behind them are reinforced by every modem technical 
aid in lighting and scenery, to the archaic, severe, sublime mysteries 
of the Nd plays (Photograph no) which border on the sacred; or to the 
magic of the bunraku, where the most exciting puppets in the world laugh, 
weep, make love, fight, seduce, kill, flee, their movements and expres- 
sions guided by the hands of masters who have inherited the skill, taste, 
and experience of generations. All this is purely eastern. But Tokyo 
would not be Tokyo if the west were not represented too. There are 
half a dozen theatres which present modern, often the latest, plays; 
translations, adaptations, and new works by Japanese. The passion for 
imamduvhi, the very latest thing, to use an old Japanese expression, is 
almost infuriatingly alive. No sooner is a new voice raised in Paris, New 
York, Oxford, Rome, Moscow, than its echo is heard among the interi 
(intellectuals) of Tokyo. Often no more is involved than a fleeting phase 
of fashion which leaves no trace but a paragraph or so in the newspapers 
or a few articles in ‘high-brow’ magazines. 

Gnemas, as can well be imagined, are numerous; from the lux- 
urious establishments in the city centre, with air conditioning and films 
from many countries in the original language, with sub-titles, to 
suburban flea-pits which stink of urine and offer a four- or five-hour 
programme — two full-length films, with news-reel, etc. — for a few 
dozen yen; also there are many revues, jazz bands, and ballets; typical 
are the performances of the Takarazuka troupe, which consists only 
of women, who play male parts too, incidentally very well. 

As for society life, in our sense of the word it can be said not to exist, 
or, if at all, only in embryo. The foreign world of diplomatists, states- 
men, American senior officers, is a closed circle which few Japanese 
enter, and at heart enter reluctantly. The differences in customs, 
language, and tastes are too great for social intercourse to go much 
beyond the exchange of formal courtesies. Dinners, dances, parties, 
receptions, succeed each other in an unending stream, particularly in 
autumn and winter and at the beginning of spring, but these things 
are a matter of relative concern to ten thousand among the millions of 
the city’s inhabitants. 

Japanese life, based on the separation of the sexes and, since the 



58 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

Middle Ages (thirteenth to sixteenth centuries), on the absolute pre- 
dominance of the male, offers a solid obstacle to the western habit of 
enjoying the pleasures of life in common with wives, fiancees, sisters. 
The night is therefore essentially the domain of the male, who plunges 
into it like an agile, silent, uncommunicative, aggressive cat, with 
bristling fur and shining eyes, looking for female companionship; and 
it is unanimously agreed that of all female cats the Japanese are by a long 
way the sweetest, most charming, most tender. One thing is certain: no 
woman is able to sell herself with such grace as a Japanese woman; and 
I do not mean selling herself in the cruder, sexual sense, but granting 
a man her company in return for pay; it may be only the smile with 
which she pours saki into the tiny porcelain cup, but she does it as if you 
were the only man in the world and she your sweet and humble slave. 
Many of these characteristics, which, from the selfish male point of 
view, are unquestionably so delightful, are now disappearing. But one 
thing may be noted: women here are capable of passing from the most 
exquisite delicacy to the most appalling and barbarous crudity of 
behaviour, voice, gesture, and speech. They plunge, not from one 
tradition to another, from that of the east to that of Europe or America, 
but from civilization to zero, to the most complete barbarism. Fortu- 
nately this phenomenon seems restricted to those circles most violently 
affected by apuri (apris guerre) circumstances. The great majority of 
Japanese women change clothes, language, hair style, and dietetic, 
sexual and religious customs without losing the humility, the grace, the 
sweetness, the capacity for understanding and that look of a fledgling 
just fallen from the nest that is capable of making a man ready for 
anything, even to be diabolically deceived. 

One of the ways in which the bristling male cats may begin their 
evening is by licking their fur. One of the most remarkable results of 
the grafting of American commercialism on the Japanese cherry-tree is 
provided by an establishment worthy of some Caracalla of the electronic 
age, theTokyo Onsen (Tokyo Baths), right in the middle of the town, only 
a few paces from the Ginza. Here all the traditional and charming rites 
that surround the Japanese bath, particularly at hot springs, have been 
studied with an unprejudiced eye and adapted to the requirements of 
the age of glamour and publicity. The place is open from 6 a.m. until 
10 p.m. You can have a marble lath, a porcelain bath, a perfumed deal 



TOKYO, VOKLD MELTING-TOT 


99 

bath, or a chromium bath. You can take your bath alone, or in couples, 
or in whole parties; you can have hot or cold water unadulterated, or 
you can have a sulphur, milk, lemon, or hormone bath, or it can be 
vita m i nize d, irradiated, rejuvenating, aphrodisiac, soporific, or electric. 
You can have a Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, or Roman bath, with or 
without massage, with or without attractive attendants, either in vest 
and shorts or semi-nude. Afterwards you may have inhalations, sprays, 
showers, or sunlamp treatment. The place is full of young men who 
would have delighted Petronius, but also of people just up from the 
country with their eyes popping out of their heath at all these marvels 
of civilization; and, of course, American soldiers, looking either embar- 
rassed or truculent, depending on whether the Puritan or the orgiastic 
element in them is uppermost at the moment. 

A bath implies nudity. Those unscrupulous Japanese who from the 
outset of the occupation set about trying to squeeze as many dollars as 
possible out of the Americans quickly realized that nudity, a thing of 
little concern in their own country, was much sought after abroad, 
particularly by these pure Christians whose repressed instincts were 
always ready to boil over. So you want nude women, the pimps ex- 
claimed, astonished that it was possible to satisfy the new nam-ban-jin 
(southern barbarians), the new masters of the earth and the sea, and in 
sex (Photograph 139), with such a little thing, and they proceeded to 
supply it in torrents, in floods, in oceans ; and throughout Tokyo, which 
was followed in the matter by other Japanese towns, there was heard 
the new word tuido, which had not previously existed in the Japanese 
dictionary. Hoardings, bills, leaflets, rotogravure illustrations, news- 
papers, photographs, celebrated the discovery of the female form in all 
the moods of which it is capable; from retiring shyness to Bacchanalian 
frenzy, from repose and serenity to impudent invitation. Innumerable 
‘photographic studios’ sprang up at which for a few shilling? you were 
supplied with camera, lights, instructions about filters and exposures, 
and one or two nude models. 

Spectacular revues were put on which vied with the Folies Bergire 
(the Nichikegi, the Kokusai at Asakusa), imitated in the suburbs by many 
poorer, more vulgar, more simply carnal imitations. At the same time, 
without exaggeration, hundreds qf nailo (night clubs) were opened at 
which brief floor-shows were given several times a night These might 



60 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

sometimes contain an acrobatic or musical act, but the chief interest 
was normally the gradual and skilfully delayed revelation of the female 
form. 

In short, the erotic aspect of nudity is something new in Japan, one 
of the many gifts to it of the west. Not that Japan has ever been a Puritan 
country; quite the reverse. But sex had hitherto always been accepted 
very frankly and naturally; everyone was accustomed from childhood 
to seeing the human form naked. The Japanese woman lay back on the 
futon and said: *Hai, I am ready 1 ; there was no point in embroidering 
fantasies round the act. But then the west arrived with all its psycholo- 
gical complications and sense of guilt about sex, which avenged itself 
by turning into vice. 

The more sensitive Japanese discern this, and avoid these spectacles, 
which at best border on vulgarity; their pleasures are wiser and more 
refined. They take them in places far removed from noise, the crowd, 
in the so-called karyukai (flower and willow) quarters at Shimbashi, 
Kudan, Akasaka, Atago-Yama, along the Sumida, in the realm of the 
geisha (Photograph 137) where bath, dinner, music, dance, witty and 
intelligent company, the garden, the moon, the sea, the beauty of the 
night, taste and refinement in every detail of the furnishings, prepare 
the mind, the body, and the senses. 

If a Japanese desires less traditional pleasures, he will probably go 
to a bar (Photograph 148). Here the geisha is reduced to an aerodynamic 
shadow of herself; she is dressed in western fashion, with short hair, 
serves whisky or gin, sits on chairs at a table, and is willing to discuss 
the latest film, the latest exhibition of abstract art that has caused such 
a stir at Ueno, or even social problems or sport. Her essence, her secret, 
however, remains the same; the possibility she offers to a man tired after 
his work, perhaps with office or domestic worries, to refresh himself 
for a few hours talking, joking, drinking with a girl who is charming, 
gentle, smiling, soignie, without any commitment, but not without the 
possibility— the possibility which incidentally lends flavour to all rela- 
tions between man and woman— of a more tender relationship, whether 
fleeting or lasting. Hence the great success of these places, of which 
Japanese towns are full; in the case of Tokyo they range from quiet, 
relatively luxurious places, like the Manhattan, where you may find 
yourself sitting next to a Minister’s son or celebrities of the Japanese 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT <| 

stage and screen, to infernal dens lit by the most ievoltingly coloured 
neon lighting (the notorious Show Boat, for example) where hundreds 
of waitresses are called by number through a hoarse loudspeaker. 

So the night advances over the crazy, wise, vulgar, industrious, 
learned, and illustrious city. The frogs croak in the moats round the 
Imperial Palace, the breeze moves the long branches of the willows 
along the canals, and slowly the lights begin to go out. The moon sets 
over Fuji and dawn comes creeping over the Pacific. The only sound 
is that of the sobaya in the distance, the seller of hot soup for early risers 
or late bed-goers, making his way through the streets, pushing his little 
cart and every now and then sounding a few long, piercing, melancholy 
notes on his pipe. 


. zto Year and A fter 

In Japan the spiritual upheaval caused by defeat was particularly severe. 
Its moral effects — like those of a great shock or a superhuman effort 
—are more apparent now than they were immediately after the war; 
and so they will remain for a long time. 

The explanation is not far to seek; in 2,000 years of history Japan 
had never been invaded, and no Japanese army had ever been defeated 
by foreigners. So deeply rooted was the legend of their invincibility that 
losing the war was like discovering that a fundamental law of nature 
was wrong; it meant re-shaping their basic ideas. The only foreign ruler 
who made a serious attempt to invade Japan was Kublai Khan, the 
Mongol Emperor of China, the Great Khan of Marco Polo, but his first 
attempt in 1274 failed, and his second and more dangerous attempt in 
1281 ended in disaster; a gale destroyed nearly the whole of the fleet that 
was taking the Chinese and Mongol troops to invade the iand of 
dwarfs', as Japan was called on the mainland. On that occasion the 
Japanese spoke of the kami-kaze, the ‘divine wind’ that saved them from 
the disgrace of invasion; the term became familiar all over the world 
when it was adopted during the war by the Japanese suicide pilots. 

In more recent ages neither Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, British, 
Chinese, or Russians had succeeded in getting the better of the little 
Empire. Thus it was natural that the myth of invincibility should 
prosper. After the setting up of the modern state (1868), which even in 



«2 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

so-called liberal periods (1920-30, for example) remained profoundly 
militarist, the ruling classes deliberately encouraged the myth, incul- 
cating it into the young, reinforcing it with official, imperial, divine 
sanction, elevating it into a dogma which no one dared to doubt. Never, 
except perhaps in the Muslim world, have politics been so crazily 
coloured with metaphysics. I could quote innumerable examples which 
would cause a smile or a shudder, I do not know which; one, taken at 
random from a newspaper, will suffice: 

‘We Japanese know that our god [Amaterasu, “she who shines 
in the sky”, i.e., the sun], from whom the Emperor is descended, 
watches over Japan. This deity and the Japanese are related by 
cons a nguinity. The whole world searches for God, but only Japan 
possesses Him; Japan is the divine country . . . therefore the Em- 
peror’s will is the only key to a new universal order .’ 1 

It must not be forgotten that Japan is an isolated archipelago, that 
the Japanese speak a difficult language, that their written language is 
extraordinarily complex, that they are separated from their nearest 
neighbours by a formidable barrier of different customs and mental 
habits, and that it is therefore extremely difficult for Mr. Shimizu or 
Mr. Tanaka, the Japanese man in the street, to form an accurate idea of 
the world ‘outside’. Japanese had been brought up and mentally condi- 
tioned in a void; the vast majority genuinely and honestly accepted at 
their face value these and other fantastic statements spread abroad daily 
by the Press, the wireless, and in the speeches of their leaders. 

Bearing all this in mind, it is easy to understand that August 13, 1943, 
the day when the Emperor communicated to his subjects the decision 
to surrender, seemed, if not the end of the world, at any rate the end 
of a world. There were many suicides, fifty of them outside the Imperial 
Palace, but the overwhelming majority of Japanese adapted themselves 
to the new circumstances with a kind of dazed passivity. The Americans 
did not cease to marvel at the way in which these ferocious enemies of 
yesterday became the so willing collaborators of today. They were more 
like automata than men; in their minds they were still marching in 
military formation, not towards physical death, but towards spiritual 

‘ HkM, of October (, 941, over the rigoatuK of K. Kito. 



TOKYO, WOKLD MELTING-POT 63 

annihilation. It is worth recording that at the beginning of the 
occupation not a single incident took place between the occupying 
troops and the population; the first took place only several months 
later, when an American soldier who had been drinking killed a passer- 
by at Nara, but even then the crowd behaved in the most orderly manner 
and handed the man over to the authorities without touching a hair 
of his head. War-time discipline, combined with the profound Japanese 
hierarchical sense, was still in command. 

In the end, however, the breakdown came; but after the work of 
material reconstruction had begun, after the new products of revived 
industries had started taking the place of the old, after the devastated 
towns had been almost completely rebuilt. For those who love Japan, 
from certain points of view, in certain districts, at certain times of day, 
it still presents a painful spectacle today. Where, for instance, do the 
degraded young men come from who follow allied soldiers— par- 
ticularly around Yuraku-cho— offering them doubtful deals of every 
kind? Or all the shameless pam-pam, painted like harridans, with high 
heels and mis-shapen legs, who shout, smoke, spit, chew gum, and call 
out ‘Hey, Johnnie!’ at passers-by? You cannot open a newspaper with- 
out reading of scandals in high places. If Italy had its Montesi case, Japan 
had its shipbuilding and Omi factories scandals, which opened unex- 
pected glimpses into a world of corruption on the one hand and of 
incredible industrial feudalism on the other; to say nothing of such 
incidents as the battle-royal in Parliament (on June j, 1954). when 
fisticuffs took the place of debate. You feel surrounded by the depravity 
of a casino in which people are ready to throw away a month’s earnings 
for the sake of five minutes’ debauch or to sell themselves to the first- 
comer for a handful of cigarettes. ‘Nothing matters, nothing makes 
sense' seems to be written on young people’s brows. The passing fever 
that in 1945-6 affected Italy, a country immunized by many disasters and 
therefore quick to recuperate, here infected a pure, virgin, uninoculated 
organism, and its ravages have been the greater. 

Perhaps the worst is over; signs of improvement are to be seen, but 
the way back will be long; no country has ever been so touched to the 
quick by defeat. Those who know the Japanese, observing certain signs 
that seem to point to taking pleasure in humiliation, to wallowing in 
the misery of defeat, certainly tend to form a very adverse judgment of 



« MEETING WITH JAPAN 

them; the disabled men begging for alms, for instance, or families 
willing to sell for a few shillings uniforms once held to be practically 
sacred, or an ancestral sword, ‘the soul of the Samurai’. 

All this is true enough; and it derives from a particular way of 
looking at life; the Japanese have such a sincere and deep sense of moral 
values that the shadow of a compromise, the slightest sullying of an 
ideal by contact with the weaknesses of everyday life, suffices for the 
star to fall in the mud and lose all its meaning. It is thus perfectly logical 
to pass from extremes of honour, heroism, delicacy, to the most com- 
plete immorality, the most complete unscrupulousness, the vilest 
cowardice, the most terrifying vulgarity. It is the phenomenon that 
Ruth Benedict calls ‘the expendability of damaged goods’, 1 the pheno- 
menon known through the ages to Latin wisdom as conuptio optimi pessima. 

This morning I was watching a small crowd of bootblacks engaged 
in illicit trafficking with some foreign soldiers just by the requisitioned 
theatre now known by the name of the noted war correspondent 
Ernie Pyle when a woman’s voice called me. 

‘Maraini-san !’ 

I did not recognize her. 

'Watashi-ga! dare da-ka obeete imasu-ka ?’ (Don’t you recognize me?) 

She was an attractive young woman of about twenty-five, poorly 
dressed in western style. An insistent smile hid the tired lines of her face. 

‘Don’t you remember Hirano-san? At Kyoto, twelve or thirteen 
years ago! I’m his sister. I was a little girl then, you didn’t even notice 
me. So you’re back in Japan? When did you come back?’ 

Now I remembered. Hirano had been a friend of mine at Kyoto; he 
had been a student of western history, and was writing a thesis on the 
Renaissance for his degree. He belonged to an old Osaka family which 
had produced generations of judges, professors, industrialists. How 
often I had been to his parents’ house, a villa between Kyoto and Osaka, 
where a warm and friendly atmosphere prevailed 1 So the little girl 
playing with her dolls whom I had hardly noticed was Akiyo. It made 
me feel a hundred years old. 

‘And your brother?’ 

‘He was killed in the invasion of Kiska, in the Aleutians. . . . Shika- 
taganai [it can’t be helped]. My husband is dead too; he was not killed in 

1 R. Binidzct, 7 If Ckysmtkmm mi dm Sword, Boston, 9 *. 



TOKYO, VOKLD MELTING-POT 


65 

the war, he died two years ago of tuberculosis, skfatagcmcd. Now I*m 
married to a Chinese. He owns a pachinko saloon near here. Would you 
like to meet him! It’s only just round the comer. A nasty Imjo, a nasty 
neighbourhood, isn’t it? Shikataganai, sense ni maketa [it can’t be helped, we 
lost the war].’ Japanese constantly use this last expression as comment, 
excuse, on any sad or displeasing aspect of present-day life, in order to 
bury it and put it out of sight. 

Poor Akiyo-san, how she had come down in the world ! We made 
towards her pachinko saloon. Pachinko is the most depressing symptom of 
the loss of bearings of at least a part of the Japanese people in recent 
years (Photographs 122, 136). It is a pin-table device; you press a lever 
which releases a small steel ball; if the ball enters the hole you win 
a small prize; ninety-nine times out of a hundred the ball does not enter 
+he hole. The pachinko craze started at Nagoya and spread like wildfire. 
As money prizes are forbidden by law, winners get such things as 
sweets, fruit, toys, shaving soap, etc., etc. After 1948 pachinko establish- 
ments spread prodigiously throughout the whole of Japan. At first they 
were humble affairs in fair-grounds, but then the small, medium, and 
big sharks of Japanese business life got hold of them, and pachinko arcades 
deluxe invaded the principal streets and became one of the characteristics 
of contemporary Japan. It is difficult to give accurate figures because the 
owners, the appearance, and the addresses of these places are changed 
continually in order to avoid the attentions of the tax-collector, but, 
according to recent statistics, there are 3.348 with 197,819 pin-tables in 
Tokyo alone, an average of sixty-one pin-tables per saloon; in other 
words there is one pin-table for every thirty-seven persons, including 
women and children. In the whole of Japan there are said to be 26,000 
such establishments with about a million pin-tables . 1 

Akiyo and I made our way with difficulty across the street, risking 
being run over by two taxis which, as usual, were racing each other 
without the slightest regard for pedestrians’ life and limb, and went 
down a narrow alley which was all lanterns and neon signs. The innum- 
erable bars of the Ginza neighbourhood were just opening their doors, 
and troops of the waitresses who work in them were just returning 
from their bath and dinner. As soon as 1 turned the corner 1 heard the 
characteristic pachinko noise, rather like that of a factory or printing 

1 According to the AM Emhg Sews of December j, *94. 

E 



66 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

works, a factory in which nothing is made, a printing works in which 
nothing is printed. Over the door of the establishment there was 
written in bright red letters: C’est la vie . 

‘No, not that one,’ said Akiyo. That one belongs to a gaijin [’some- 
one from outside’— at least 612 pachinko saloons belong to foreigners] 
whom my husband can’t stand. He's dishonest and they say he’s a 
deserter, I don’t know. He does very well, because he surreptitiously 
gives kyameru [Camels] and rakki [Lucky Strike] as prizes.' 

We went on. More factory or printing works noises, more pachinko 
saloons, two, three in a row, with crowds round the pin-tables, their 
eyes glued to the steel ball; pure schizophrenia. The last saloon but one 
was that of Akiyo’s husband. We went in ; it was a poor, dirty place, with 
about twenty pin-tables; two women attendants were sitting in a corner, 
eating rice out of bowls. Everything in the place was demoralizing and 
depressing. I was introduced to Akiyo’s husband, a suave Chinese With 
clammy hands. He suggested that I should try his ’special’ pin-table, 
that is to say the one that was honest. I worked the handle a number 
of times, and won a packet of sweets and said thank you; I was much 
more interested in watching the people. It must have been about six 
o'clock by now, and the place was already quite crowded; many had 
had their evening meal— you could tell from their clean, shaven faces 
and their yukata, the light summer kimonos that nearly everyone wears 
at home or for informal leisure activities; others had obviously not yet 
gone home or taken the evening bath, but were glued to the pin-tables 
like people obsessed. There were students in their mournful black 
uniforms, clerks in threadbare jackets, old men, respectable housewives, 
doubtful-looking hags of uncertain age, and there were even one or 
two pretty girls who, I should have thought, would have been happier 
walking out with their young men. 

The pachinko craze is a form of collective mania. It has been calculated 
that in 1954 something like 240 thousand million yen, or about a quarter 
of the national budget, passed through the hands of these establish- 
ments. Most of the customers are casual, but there are a large number 
of addicts, people who spend every penny they have on pachinko and let 
their wives and children go hungry for its sake. 

It is difficult to understand its fascination. It is obviously a flight 
from reality, a drug; but. only a people which was fundamentally 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 


67 

Buddhist could develop such enthusiasm for this particular form of 
fugue. There are several Buddhist techniques for attaining illumination, 
but one of the principal consists of freeing the mind from all contingent 
thoughts so that the light may enter; and one of the ways of doing this 
is by repeating a phrase, a mantra , a brief ejaculatory, ad infinitum, until 
consciousness is annihilated. That is the unconscious soil in which the 
pachinko phenomenon took root. Poor Jiro Yamada, a clerk earning £ij 
a month, with a wife and three children to keep, bored by his work and 
a life that has nothing to offer him and, moreover, probably entirely 
ignorant of the philosophical foundations of the civilization in which 
he lives, finds a kind of narcotic salvation in the crazy, endless, absurd, 
repetitive movement. 

On the other hand the pachinko is also a mechanical device, made of 
sf^l, almost scientific, because the calculation of probabilities enters 
into it; to say nothing of the fact that it makes a noise like a factory. 
Buddhism and industry, in other words a combination of past and 
future! A people spiritually reduced to zero, which has suffered destruc- 
tion even in the secret places of the heart, faced with the huge task of 
finding new reasons for hoping and living, responds like an army of 
automata to these calls of the unconscious. It is the only possible 
explanation. Any other would be an insult to Japanese intelligence and 
sensibility. 

Akiyo-san insisted on accompanying me back to the Ginza. We 
took tea in a little bar and ate two leaf-shaped sweets. She did not want 
to leave me; I reminded her of her obviously happy childhood, which 
had been only too different from the squalid present. She talked about 
the war years, and the day on which ‘they told me the Emperor was no 
longer god’, and her family. 

‘Only you, Maraini-san, know how I was born and brought up, and 
can understand that I don’t belong to that filthy alley.’ 

She smiled, as she had been taught to smile from childhood, even 
when her eyes were shining because they were full of tears. 


Individual and Society 

My meeting with Akiyo sealed by personal experience my contact with 
this sad, ugly, squalid, post-war world Similar features characterized 



68 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

other countries in the post-war period, but on nothing approaching 
the Japanese scale. But was it a general picture of a people, or only one 
aspect! Let us try to look at things dispassionately. 

It is easy enough to paint a gloomy picture of present-day Japan. 
Its 90 million inhabitants are restricted to a territory of 142,000 square 
miles; in comparison with pre-war Japan a population that has in- 
creased by 20 million has to live in an area reduced by 45 per cent; the 
density of the population is 638 to the square mile. These figures are 
sufficient to indicate a present full of problems and a future full of 
uncertainties. It is true that in the last few years (from 1949 onwards) 
attempts have been made to restrict the growth of population by birth 
control (law of eugenic protection, of July 13, 1948), but the results have 
not been very happy, probably because of insufficient education of the 
public in this field; instead of planned conception the only result has 
been a disproportionate number of abortions (legal abortions num- 
bered 1,143,039 in 1934). In the economic field Japan lost as a result of the 
war 23 per cent of her national wealth; 34 per cent of her industrial 
capacity was destroyed or made unusable, she lost 80-6 per cent of her 
shipping, and a quarter of all Japanese dwellings were reduced to dust 
and ashes. The newspapers are full of stories (though allowance should 
be made for journalistic distortion, exaggeration, or invention) of 
corruption in high places, juvenile delinquency, vast-scale smuggling, 
illegal foreign exchange deals, the drug traffic, and that festering sore 
which is most difficult to eradicate because it is a deeply rooted custom, 
the selling into prostitution of young girls, particularly by the poor 
peasants of north Japan (Tohoku and Hokkaido). 1 The death rate from 
tuberculosis is very high, particularly in the towns.* The suicide 
rate (23.4 per 100,000 inhabitants) is the highest in the world, and in 
the great majority of cases is attributed simply to ml (tiredness with 
life). 

The economic situation of the great majority of the population is 
sufficient to make one’s hair stand on end. The average monthly pay 
in urban areas was recently (in 1935) increased to 18,608 yen (about £18 
or $3o)but half theindustrial workers receive barelyi2,ooo yen. ASodalist 

1 Sm, for instance, Dealers In Human Fleth in Hokkaido', Auki Emty News, December 17, >fX. 

1 An lnvewcigation by the Ministry of Public Health la wm Aowed that between four and five 
mlHton panoni wtr* suffering from the dtteaae. 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-FOT 69 

Party proposal to establish a legal minimum oi 8,000 yen monthly for 
adult workers was rejected as ‘unrealistic*. 1 Innumerable women work 
long hours in bars and restaurants for 7,000 or 8,000 yen a month; 
the Kyushu coalminers have to manage on 250 yen (55. or 70c) a day. This 
is not a book of statistics or of economic studies; I merely quote 
facts to give some idea of a situation that is prickly with intractable 
problems. 

On the other hand it is possible to argue, as many optimists do, that 
*mo sengo de wa nai /' (the post-war period is over !) Evidence for this is not 
lacking. From many points of view the Japanese recovery from the 
depths of the disaster of 1945, after losing a war on which they had staked 
everything, can be described as truly remarkable. The original impetus 
was given by the Americans, but it would not have been possible without 
the intelligence and industry of the Japanese. The fundamental virtues 
ot this people explain the successes they have often wrung from adverse 
circumstances. The Times of London recently remarked that the dis- 
cipline of the Japanese nation neutralized much indecision, and even 
intrigues and corruption, at government level. 1 repeat that this is not 
a book of statistics, but I cannot refrain from quoting some figures 
which illustrate the steady and continuous ascent from the depths of 
1945* In 1955 the production of steel, pig iron, and steel products reached 
15 million tons, less than half that of Germany, but double that of Italy. 
Production of electric power exceeded 63,000 million kilowatt hours 
(United Kingdom 80,000 million kilowatt hours), and huge dams for the 
production of electric power have recently been built, at Sakuma for 
instance. The merchant fleet, which was practically wiped out in 1943# 
is the fourth in the world in the number of ships and among the first 
eight in total tonnage, and shipbuilding is booming. The production, 
and in particular the export, of machinery of all kinds has increased in 
striking fashion, and Japan has invaded new fields— the manufacture of 
precision instruments, cameras, lenses, for instance, and has shaken the 
former hegemony of other nations; the United States, for instance, now 
imports more Japanese than German cameras. In 1956 Japanese exports 
had increased relatively more than those of any other country. Unem- 
ployment has remained practically constant at between one and two 
per cent. The mortality rate declined from 27 per 1,000 in 1945 to 7 8 per 

• Set articles by H. Tlltman In Asaki E*mg News, that of August n, iw*. 



70 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

i,ooo in 1955. In 1955 there were 13 million wireless licences and 130,000 
television licences. (In the United Kingdom in 1957 there were 14.5 
million, of which nearly half were for television.) The newspapers 
are among the most prosperous in the world with 34 million 
copies sold daily, a figure unsurpassed except in Britain and the 
United States. 

Institutions and political customs which assured a special place to 
the military and encouraged the trend to war have been abolished, 
notably the rule, explicit from 1911 onwards, that service ministers must 
be appointed from among serving officers selected by the general staff; 
this was adroitly used by the gunbatsu, the military clique, to enslave the 
country for its own purposes, and the Emperor has of course renounced 
the statutory declaration of his own heavenly ancestry and trans- 
formed himself into a symbol of the state and of national unity (Article I 
of the new constitution of 1946). Apart from these things, Japan has 
carried through an important programme of agrarian reform, the 
benefits of which are now beginning to be felt; has undertaken a huge 
social welfare programme; has carried out big reforms in the education 
system, with the result that every Japanese child has the right of free 
education from his sixth to his fifteenth year; and finally, political life is 
firmly on the rails of a two-party parliamentary system of the Anglo- 
American type. In certain directions reformist enthusiasm has gone 
ahead too quickly, e.g., in the permanent renunciation of war enshrined 
in Article IX of the new constitution. Finally, here are some signs which 
tend to show that the invalid is feeling better and that his taste for life 
is returning: on May 8-11, 1956, a party of Japanese climbers, led by Maki 
Yo, twice reached the summit of Manaslu (26,658 feet), one of the 
highest hitherto unclimbed peaks in the Himalayas, and a strong 
Japanese expedition, financed chiefly by the newspaper Asahi, left for the 
Antarctic in connection with the International Geophysical Year. Thus 
there is no doubt that Japan, in spite of all the creaking of its old bones, 
in spite of the rheumatism that still racks its joints, is a fundamentally 
healthy organism. 

During this period I had occasion to visit many factories, offices, 
workshops, hospitals; and again, as in previous years, I had occasion to 
wonder what was the secret of this people that has often enabled them 
to achieve extraordinary successes. At first sight— and this is something 



71 


TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 

that has deceived many foreign observers— the offices seem full of 
confusion, the factories primitive and badly kept, the hospitals poor 
and badly organized, and even the workers along the railway line 
handle their tools with the slow solemnity of an archaic rite. But it is 
the old story; one civilization should never be judged by the standards 
of another. Because our western efficiency has a certain look it does not 
follow that Japanese efficiency must have an exactly similar look. Just 
as the Japanese reaction to death is a smile, so their reaction to work is 
a kind of relaxed tranquillity, which has, perhaps, the great advantage 
of involving less nervous tension. 

Summing up the experience of many years in japan, I should say 
that there are at least five important Japanese characteristics which 
throw light on their success in the world, the modern world which 
they did not help to create. 

The first is their sense of communion with nature. As We shall see 
later, the relations between man and his environment in the Far East 
are profoundly different from our own. Matter is not regarded as some- 
thing inert and passive to be dominated, but as life, to be understood, 
loved, possessed. This, of course, is not consciously present in the mind 
of an operator using a machine-tool in an engineering shop, and if you 
questioned him about it he would probably be at a loss for an answer, 
but, like all other men, he is much more than he is consciously aware of. 
In each one of us there lives the civilization in which we were brought 
up; behind that workman there are thousands of years of mystic rela- 
tionship with things, the subtleties of a profoundly monist philosophy, 
all the poetry of a popular religion according to which the divine 
suffuses everything, of an art which regards matter as a sister, not as a 
slave. These realities, on the level of an entire people, count; they give 
the Japanese, whether designer, director, artist, or simply workman, a 
lead of several lengths over others. 

The second characteristic, closely connected with the first, is the 
extraordinary manual skill, particularly in little things, widespread 
among Japanese of all regions and all classes. Examine an eighteenth- 
century inro (medicine box), a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century tsuba 
(sword guard), a plate, any lacquered object, a wicker basket, above all 
a sword blade; consider the skill and care with which boats, wooden 
boxes, lanterns, cheap paper-anef-bamboo umbrellas are made, and you 



72 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

will immediately appreciate that this standard of workmanship, when 
harnessed to modem industry, is equivalent to a fabulous gold-mine on 
which to draw. For centuries the level of excellence required for native 
products has been such that these skills have become second nature. 
Examining the work of western craftsmen after one has grown used to 
Japanese standards is like passing one’s hand over articles of furniture 
chopped with an axe after caressing the work of a first-class cabinet- 
maker. To get some idea of Japanese standards, one must think of Swiss 
watches, Italian Renaissance armour, certain English furniture and 
clothing; bearing in mind, however, that in Japan the high standard of 
craftsmanship applies not only to expensive products, but also to cheap 
articles of everyday use. 

The third characteristic is the traditional specialization of the 
classes. In Japan the feudal system was abolished in 1868 ; only the day 
before yesterday, so to speak. For three centuries Japanese society ,had 
been rigidly stratified. At one extreme were the 262 daimyo (great names) 
and their families; at the other the eta, social pariahs condemned to 
what in a society under Buddhist influence were such degrading tasks 
as tanning hides and butchery. In between, starting from the top, came 
the Samurai (warriors, about 7 per cent of the population), hyakusho 
(peasants, about 83 per cent), shokunin (craftsmen, about 2 per cent) and 
shonin (traders, about 3 per cent ). 1 It should be noted that traders were 
at the bottom of the scale, only a little way above the pariahs; a fact 
which explains the low Japanese commercial morality which prevailed, 
particularly during the long period at the end of the nineteenth century 
and the beginning of the twentieth, when the descendants of the best 
families preferred the professions or state employment to commerce or 
industry. There is still something degrading associated with money in 
Japan, and this often leads to hypocritical behaviour of the kind which 
with us is associated with sex. To return to class divisions; being so close 
to a past of specialization imposed from birth leads to ready acceptance 
of the limitations imposed by the requirements of modern industry. 
In the brief space of three or four generations there has been no time 
to develop a complete human nature, a rounded personality; thus 
a working life confined to the perpetual repetition of a few movements 
tends less strongly to stimulate resentment; it harmonizes with the 

1 N. Sons Smith, Tokugawa Japan, Tokyo, 1937, p. 31. 



TOKYO, WOX.LD MELTING-POT 


7 > 

atmosphere of family memories handed down by word of mouth; a nd 
that makes the condition seem more tolerable. 

Some of the characteristics of the Japanese of which everyone h** 
heard should also be remembered— their frugal and Spartan habits. 
These are favoured by the fact that life is organized in such a way that 
the fundamental human needs are satisfied both cheaply and pleasingly. 
Housing, food, clothes, baths, are all much cheaper than they are with 
us; a man can be surrounded by beautiful objects without much 
expense. Luxury, as I have already remarked, is regarded as vulgar. Even 
middle-class habits are Spartan. People get up early, put up patiently 
with cold, and are not demanding in such matters as food, dress, and 
entertainment. 

Finally, there is a group of characteristics which I perhaps should 
have put first, characteristics that are to be noted in all fields of Japanese 
hie; the lack of outstanding personalities, the natural need to collab- 
orate, the docility of groups to their leader (Photograph 78 ). One of the 
things which strikes foreigners, particularly Latins, most vividly is that 
when you meet the Japanese you rarely have the impression of meeting 
an outstanding personality, with an above-average intelligence, though 
when you meet Japan (the product of some labour, a work of art, an 
event) you are so often carried away by the warmest admiration. With 
us it is nearly always individuals who are interesting, brilliant, or witty, 
while collectively they are a poor thing. In Japan the reverse is true, and 
the whole is superior to the sum of its parts. Japanese of real talent may 
perhaps be few, but evidently the system carries them to the top; the 
others follow and the organism works. 

Month of Music on the Roof-tops 

As I write the rainy season (nyu-bai ), with its damp and stuffy heat, is 
ending, and July is advancing, bringing the first days of bright sunshine. 
With us the traditional enemy is winter; but here houses and domestic 
life are organized essentially to resist the humid and oppressive heat of 
the summer months. In the fourteenth century Kenk5-b5shi, in his 
delightful miscellany the Tsure-zure Gusa, includes, among his hundreds 
of observations about women and love, extravagance and the art of 
gardening, religion and wine, cats and philology, music and rural life. 



74 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

nature and poetry, botanical curiosities and calligraphic styles, procras- 
tination and tailoring, ancient times, recipes, games of chance, artistic 
taste, hunting, the art of divination, the best position in which to sleep, 
the best way of dealing with importunate beggars, cherry blossom, 
humility, bamboos, married life, the correct way of lighting the fire in 
the Emperor’s presence, and the seven kinds of unpropitious friendship, 
the following (Section 55): ‘When building a house it should be designed 
to suit the summer. In winter one can live anywhere, but in the hot 
weather an uncomfortable house is indeed trying.’ 1 

But, however troublesome and oppressive the humid heat, the 
low, grey, drizzling sky of the rainy season may be, you discover that it 
has its own subtle beauty. The rain becomes a song. In the silence of the 
night the dripping on the roof sounds like armies of mysterious cats 
scurrying who knows where; and everywhere you hear the music of 
flowing water, now loud and strong, now quiet and subdued, now like 
a love song or lament, now like the muttering of a venerable sage who 
has had too much to drink, and is having the most glorious dreams. In 
the daytime the plants gleam, because the sun often nearly shows itself 
through the oceans of little drops suspended in the sky. In the country 
the rice-fields shine like mirrors, and tremulous pearls of water gather 
on the great leaves of the lotus (sato-imo)\ veils of mist get caught in the 
foliage of the trees; and at night the frogs croak agitatedly among the 
newly planted-out rice seedlings. 

Early this morning there was an earthquake. In Japan earthquakes 
are so common that normally you take no notice of them. According 
to the statistics, there are more than 2,000 a year; of these at least two or 
three a month on an average are strong enough to be noticed. Their 
incidence is irregular, of course. Sometimes there are long periods of 
tranquillity during which the great fish, on which, according to ancient 
legend, the Japanese archipelago rests, sleeps quietly and peacefully; 
there are other periods during which it is continually restless and 
agitated. 9 1 remember a period before the war when for many days on 
end what came to be known as the ‘five o’clock earthquake’ occurred 
regularly every afternoon. Earthquakes have so many different ways of 

• W. N. Porter, The Miscellany of a Japanese Priest, being a translation of the Tsure-xure Qua, London 
014. 

1 Earthquakes are one of the four Japanese terrors; the others are fire, thunder, and father. 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 75 

behaving’ that you can never hope to know them all. Sometimes they 
begin gently and mildly; the world is first rocked by a gentle hand, 
which then gets angry and shakes it violently; sometimes the first 
warning is a sudden, violent shock, succeeded by more gentle shocks 
which gradually fade away into nothing. The ordinary Japanese wooden 
houses are admirably constructed to resist them; they are built like 
a ship, or a big piece of furniture, held together internally by inter- 
locking beams, and only the most exceptional shock is capable of 
wrecking them. At the first sign of an earthquake they start shaking, 
creaking and groaning, giving ample warning to those within to seek 
refuge in the open air. This morning’s shock was of the nasty, sly, 
kind, which starts by making the house rock gently, as if it were 
nothing but an unusually strong gust of wind, then suddenly 
increases in violence and makes you seek refuge half-naked in the 
garden, and then stops equally suddenly, as if playing a practical joke 
on you. 

Having been thus awakened, I did not get back to bed, but read and 
listened to the wireless. Everything in Japan happens much earlier than 
it does in the west. People get up early; the wireless starts at five-thirty, 
with vigorous instructions for early morning exercises, to the accom- 
paniment of a march, which has not changed since the beginning of 
time, hammered out on a piano. Before and during the war these* broad- 
cast physical training instructions were a nightmare; they were to be 
heard at all times of the day, that is to say when anthems to Hitora-kakka 
and Mussorini-kakka (Hitler and Mussolini — kakka means ‘excellency*) were 
not being played. Nowadays, however, things are less grim; the reign of 
giri (duty, moral obligation) has been succeeded by that of ninjo (human 
feeling), and broadcast talks deal with such things as art, politics, culture, 
birth control, cosmetics, sport, and gardening. Some days ago there was 
a talk on the three supreme beauties of all time: Cleopatra, Ono-no- 
Komachi, and Yang Kuei-fei. For the benefit of readers who may not 
have heard of the last two, Ono-no-Komachi (‘Little Village in Little 
Reid*) was a celebrated poetess of the ninth century (the Heian period). 
According to the legend she was extremely beautiful, fastidious, fond 
of luxury, proud, and haughty. In 868, when the priests called on 
the gods in vain for rain, her. verses are said to have succeeded in 
ra nging them to relent. But even she must have had her share of 



76 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

disappointments in life; one of her poems tells us with the most un- 
bridled melancholy that 


In mede 
Utsuro mono wa 
Yttutukatu 
Hitt no Mom no 
Hand mu art ken. 


In this world 
Only the hidden 
And secret flower 
Of the human heart 
Fades slowly 

Without changing colour. 


As for Yang Kuei-fei, 1 hers is indeed a tragic story. She was the fav- 
ourite concubine of the Chinese Emperor Ming Huang (d. 756), one of 
the greatest emperors of the Tang period, but was strangled when the 
Emperor, having grown old and frightened, realized that only her 
death could satisfy a powerful rebellious clique to whom she had 
become odious as a result of court intrigues. The story was written in 
letters of flame in Chinese history, and for more than a thousand years 
was a favourite theme of poets, artists, novelists, and dramatists. The 
Japanese recently made a film of it which was an international success. 

I had despaired of tracking down the family of my friend Hiro when 
one day by chance I met his sister in the city centre. To my great surprise 
I learned that she was working at the Tokyo Onsen. Was this another 
case of apuri, post-war demoralization! I soon saw that it was nothing of 
the sort. She spoke English, was a receptionist, and merely directed 
customers to what they wanted. It was a job like any other. Besides, it 
was enough to have a look at her; she looked more like a healthy sports 
mistress than a survivor of tragic events. She talked about Hiro as if he 
were still alive, laughing at his student pranks, and the excuses he used 
to make up at home in order to come ski-ing with me. 

But those are distant memories, belonging almost to another age, 
another life. More immediate, and more tragic, was my last meeting 
with Hiro immediately after the end of the war. After my release from 
internment I was employed by the Americans to interview Japanese 
applicants for jobs with the American military government. The pay 
was good and there was always a long queue. One cold January morning 
I was sitting in my office when there appeared at the door what at first 
sight I took for the shadow of an old man. I looked again, and saw that 
the shadow was greeting me. Then I saw that there was something 

1 In Japanese Yo KJ-hi. 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 


77 

fa m i li a r about his features, though they had changed in a fashion that 
for the moment I was at a loss to explain. Then the man came forward 
hesitantly and said in a whisper: 

‘Maraini-san desu-ka t' (Are you not Mr. Maraini V) 

'Hai* (Yes). 1 Anata-wa ?' (And who are you?) 

‘Don't let me disturb you now,' the shadow said, looking nervously 
all round him. ‘Later, later. I’ll wait for you outside. I’m Hiro.’ 

‘Hiro ! Hiro !' I was too taken aback to do anything but repeat his 
name. Heavens, how he had changed! He could not be more than 
twenty-three or twenty-four, but he looked like fifty. He was toothless, 
and had the yellow skin, the puffy flesh, of one who has spent long years 
in prison, far from the light. There were many like him at that period, 
but I had never known any of them before their ordeal, and therefore 
had no point of comparison. But I had known Hiro well when he was 
a student at Sapporo, in Hokkaido; a sturdy, strong, warm-hearted, 
decisive young man, with an immense thirst for knowledge, and 
a mountain-climber into the bargain. He was one of the first friends 
I made in Hokkaido, and we had been on many ski-ing expeditions 
together in the northern winter of that remote island. It seemed impos- 
sible that this wreck of humanity could be he. . . . Even his eyes, his look, 
were those of another; he was a broken man; his hesitation and un- 
certainty were poles apart from the self-confidence that had been one 
of his most pleasing characteristics. 

I asked permission to leave the office, and we went together to 
a cafe. I tried to conceal how shocked I was at seeing him like this, but 
he was only too well aware of the state to which he was reduced. He 
told me about his five years of imprisonment, the hunger, the cold and 
the beatings, which he had not expected to survive. During the first year, 
in the Arctic cold of Abashiri, he and his fellow-prisoners had been left 
for whole nights without heating at zero Fahrenheit. He had beri-beri 
and tuberculosis, and knew that he had not long to live, but was happy 
because perhaps the better Japan of which he had dreamt was now 
going to be born. He had been imprisoned because they had said he was 
a spy, but I knew better than he did that his only crime had been to 
associate with me and the few other foreigners at Sapporo, in order to 
learn our languages, English, French, and Italian, and to learn some- 
thing of the outside world. 



78 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

I asked him whether he had been given a formal trial. Yes, he said, 
but it had been a farce; witnesses had appeared whom he had never 
seen, all his statements had been falsified, and he had been sentenced to 
twenty years’ imprisonment for subversive activity in the dai-to-a sense, 
the ’war of great east Asia’. 

Next day I took him to the head of the American office which dealt 
with the victims of political persecution; he was received with open 
arms, and we set in motion the steps to obtain compensation, to enable 
him to start life again and obtain proper medical attention. But not 
long afterwards he died of a haemorrhage; another victim of the 
militarist tyranny, and certainly a hero in his humble and quiet 
way. 

His sister now took me to see his parents; his mother could scarcely 
restrain her tears. The new home of the Miyazawa was a modest, recently 
built house in one of the higher quarters of Tokyo, another of those 
where you almost seem to be in the country though you are near the 
heart of the city. The Miyazawa were a middle-class family, of the kind 
that with us would certainly have owned a car, but in Japan life is lived 
at a much more modest level, not only out of necessity, but out of taste 
and tradition. At every social level the Japanese are unquestionably more 
Spartan than we, but it is in the middle class that the difference is most 
striking. The Japanese still have in their blood three centuries of the 
sumptuary laws of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), ancient religious 
and artistic traditions in which Franciscan ideals prevail, the remote but 
still living martial cult of the bushi, the warrior whose only possession 
is his sword. Luxury, particularly conspicuous luxury, is a thing to be 
ashamed of; it is sufficient to observe the modest way of life of million- 
aires such as the Mitsui, for instance. Of course there are families, and 
many of them— particularly at Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama— with villas, 
yachts, American cars, jewellery and furs, but in the general estimation 
they are surrounded with the odour of vulgarity. Few Japanese phrases 
are more contemptuous than narikin — nouveau riche . Innumerable little 
things made it easy to see that the Miyazawa were prospering, but their 
house, food, clothing, pleasures, were all subtly dominated by the ideals 
of Buddhist simplicity which are almost inseparable from all that is 
most worth while in Japan. 

We went together to visit Hiro’s grave, or rather his sepulchral 



TOKYO, VOKLD MELTING-POT 


79 

pillar, because in Japan the dead are always cremated. Hiro’s parents 
belong to a Buddhist sect which from some points of view can be said 
to be the most Japanese of them all; it is characterized by httle doctrine 
but much good works, and was founded by Nichiren (1222-1282), a 
visionary, turbulent, intolerant monk, who desired to sweep away more 
than a thousand years of metaphysical interpretation and return to 
what he believed to be the Buddha’s original teaching. The followers of 
Nichiren are Protestants, so to speak, within the orbit of Japanese 
Buddhism, and they live their faith with more fervour, if with fewer 
intellectual subtleties, than the others. The ceremony at the temple was 
brief and simple. 

It was one of those white mornings so common here in summer; 
it was hard to say whether it was cloudy or not ; the light was bright and 
dazzling, without casting shadows. We emerged from the temple on to 
an open space, surrounded by huts and shops, the white walls of which 
dazzlingly reflected the light. Hiro’s mother led me through the maze 
of sepulchral pillars (sotoba), varied in shape, but all fundamentally 
derived from the stupa-chorten- pagoda pattern common to the whole of 
Buddhist Asia, and soon we came to a grey stone pillar on which Hiro’s 
posthumous name was inscribed in solemn ideograms; a very difficult 
name, entirely different from that which he had borne in life, according 
to the usage here. 

His mother repeatedly poured water over the stone, announcing 
aloud, in accordance with the custom, all the news that might be of 
interest to him, as if he were there to hear. First of all she told him about 
my return to Japan. ‘Na/m/ Amida Butsu [let us worship the Buddha 
Amida]. Namu myd-ho-renge-kyd [let us worship the doctrine of the good 
law]. Your friend Maraini-san has again returned to Japan from his 
country beyond the ocean; we all still remember you, we all still love 
you. . . I too poured water over the stone from a little wooden cup, 
and lit incense sticks. Then it started to rain and we went away. Accord- 
ing to Japanese usage, I should have smiled, and behaved perfectly 
normally, but I could not manage it. To avoid appearing ill-bred, I said 
that I wanted to wash my hands and disappeared for a few moments 
into a dark corner of the temple. 

Incidentally, while on the^subject of death, there was recently 
celebrated here the o-bm festival, which corresponds to All Souls 9 Day 



80 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

in the western world. But what a contrast there is in the attitude of the 
two civilizations to the same phenomenon! Perhaps in no other matter 
is the difference in outlook more strikingly illustrated. With us in the 
west death is a supreme and unique occurrence, a sharp cut in the 
metaphysical biography, the irreversible end of a brief appearance on 
the stage of the world, an act of violence, not only to the emotions, but 
also to reason, fearful above all because it is succeeded by the unknown, 
a verdict from which there is no appeal. Death therefore calls for sad- 
ness, nocturnal colours, tears, repentance, sackcloth, and ashes. All 
Souls’ Day is celebrated at the beginning of November, after summer 
has gone and before winter has truly arrived, a grey, gloomy, damp, 
and melancholy season of the year, which was perhaps not chosen at 
random for this purpose by our forefathers. But in Japan the festival of 
the dead takes place in the height of summer, when all is light and life, 
after the planting out of the rice, in the season of sunshine and lush 
foliage. Death, whether because of Buddhist philosophy or the simple 
Shinto faith, is not the fearful thing it is to those who believe that there 
is one life only, at the end of which there is a judgment which decides 
the individual destiny for ever. Reduced to its nucleus of painful phy- 
sical experience and violence to the emotions, it is therefore infinitely 
more supportable. Both the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth and the 
vaguer and more poetical Shinto faith are fundamentally optimistic; 
evil— particularly according to Buddhist conceptions— is certainly 
punished, but that does not preclude the ultimate and necessary attain- 
ment of Buddhahood by every living thing. 

The dead are therefore celebrated gaily and cheerfully, and the 
three days of o-bon are an occasion for happy parties, dancing, and song 
rather than for sadness and grief. According to the new solar calendar, 
o-bon occurs in mid-July; according to the old calendar, it is thirty days 
later. In towns the new calendar is generally followed in the matter, 
while the country sticks to the old, with the result that in many places, 
particularly on the outskirts of big towns, advantage is taken of the 
opportunity to celebrate the occasion twice. In mid-July I went with 
Giorgio to the Shinto shrine of Yasakuni, the centre of the Shinto cult 
in Tokyo. 

The spirits of all who died for their country are held to reside there; 
it Isa thie national shrine. It was a warm summer evening, and the stars 


Mom 

















BnMBMMIB JHKfW 









TOKYO, VOKXD MELTING-POT El 

were scarcely to be seen through the haze so typical of Japan. The Mg 
park that surrounds the shrine was like a fair-ground, with the sound of 
music and singing; the trees were lit up by innumerable lanterns. We 
passed through the entrance (where disabled ex-servicemen in white 
shirts begged for alms) and plunged into the crowd. Nearly everyone, 
and particularly the girls walking about arm-in-arm in groups of 
three or four, wore light, gay, brightly coloured yukata. We walked 
. all over the park, passed beneath the torsi (monumental arches), and 
made our way past the big door with the golden sixteen-petalled 
chrysanthemum (standing for the sun, the symbol of the Emperor), 
along an avenue flanked by national exhibitions of painting, poetry, and 
the art of flower arrangement. The crowd consisted almost entirely 
of families, some young (father, mother, and child), some old, with 
'hattering grandparents lagging behind and children running on ahead. 
There were also American soldiers and their families, but it was impos- 
sible to discern the slightest sign of anything remotely resembling 
hostility towards them, not a look, gesture, or shrug of the shoulders. 
Incidentally we were almost certainly taken for Americans ourselves; 
in Japan nowadays every westerner, in the absence of evidence to the 
contrary, is taken to be an American. 

In front of the shrine itself— a simple, bare, and unadorned building 
in archaic style, the only outer sign to give it any importance being 
a silk Owning displaying the imperial chrysanthemum — we stopped and 
watched the crowd. As people approached they gathered themselves 
into the position of attention (they did not spring to attention, which is 
different), bowed their heads, joined their hands in prayer for a moment, 
and then withdrew. Some clapped their hands in accordance with 
ancient custom, to attract the attention of the gods; others, also in 
accordance with custom, threw a coin into a big box outside the en- 
trance as a contribution to the maintenance of the shrine. 

After admirin g the scenery for next day’s NS play we were attracted 
fay the cheerful sound of a band and a babel of voices. Near the entrance 
we found an open pavilion where about fifty people in a circle were 
dawring the boihedori, the ben dance, which is one of the most spontaneous 
outlets for the Japanese people’s taste for music and rhythm. It re- 
minded me of the many other^even more enchanting, occasions when 
I had seen the same dance in the country, by the light of a bonfire, the 



82 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

dancer’s singing not amplified by the raucous notes of the loudspeakers 
that were installed here. 

Next evening we went to Ueno, where the festival of the dead was 
being celebrated too. The park lake was surrounded by myriads of 
coloured lanterns, strung in garlands. The park was full to overflowing, 
but a sense of peace, freedom, relaxation — and cleanliness— prevailed; 
it was easy to tell that everyone had come straight from the honourable 
bath, after a light supper of cereals and herbs. In a western crowd (and, 
for that matter, a Chinese crowd too) there are always too many people 
walking about with decomposing pieces of meat inside them; they form 
a kind of peripatetic animal cemetery. All round the lake were yomise, 
miniature night-time markets, hundreds of stalls selling flowers, 
crickets in cages (their singing keeps you company), dwarf trees, red 
fish, ferns to keep your house fresh; in addition to the usual fortune- 
tellers, sellers of zodiacal talismans (juni-shi), and face-readers. 

Talking of faces, who was that poor disabled ex-serviceman in a white 
shirt, holding out his hand for alms while his companion played the 
organ? I looked at him and he looked at me, but I could not place him. 

‘Maraini-san desu-ka }' he said to me at last. ‘I am Nishi, don’t you 
remember me?’ He smiled wretchedly; he was abject, he had lost all 
dignity. For a time he had been one of the police at our internment 
camp, the only human, sometimes even decent, one among them. He 
had been with us for two months, and then was sent away. ‘I was called 
up,' he said. ‘Shikataganai [it cannot be helped]. I lost a leg without even 
being in action, in an air-raid at Okinawa.' 

1 called Giorgio, who was lagging behind. It was a painful moment; 
we did not know what to say. How many times had we cursed the 
police during the long months of cold and hunger in the camp! But 
now we felt ourselves to be in some way responsible for this man’s 
present plight, and were full of a terrible remorse. And to think that he 
should be Nishi-san, the only tolerable one of the lot. ‘the one who 
stank least', as Giorgio put it! We emptied our pockets for him, wrote 
him out addresses, wished him luck, and did not know how to say 
good-bye to him. But people started pushing, the festival dragged us 
back again into its vortex. For a moment we caught sight of him again, 
bowing towards us, and then he was swallowed up in the throng. 
Forgive us, Nishi-san, forgive us. . . . 



TOKYO* VOKLD MELTING-POT 


81 

The river of people carried us on to the little temple of Benzatoen, 
where a priest with a loudspeaker and an up-to-date projector was 
showing coloured slides illustrating the elementary ideas of Buddhism. 
Many people stopped and listened. The priest had a good voice, and was 
a simple and effective speaker. Death, he explained, would inevitably 
put an end to our brief life, which was as ephemeral as a wave of the sea; 
rebirth awaited us, but in what form? That depended on our actions in 
this life. . . . While he spoke, children stretched their hands up into the 
beam thrown by the projector, throwing the shapes of rabbits, cocks, 
and birds on to the screen beside the sacred pictures. The children 
laughed delightedly; nobody took any notice of them. One of the 
pictures showed a soul reborn as a pink babe on a bed of lotus flowers, 
while among the clouds in the distance Kwannon approved and gave 
his blessing. 

The Liuwd still pressed on and took us with it. At the lakeside 
people were handing small coins to a number of priests and receiving in 
return little square paper lanterns each on a wooden base, rather like 
a little boat, to enable it to float on the black and silent water. Each 
contained a tiny candle, and on the paper was printed a lotus flower 
and the ideograms 'sankai banrei tsuizen-kuyo' (funeral service for the myriads 
of souls of the three worlds). People either added, or got a priest to add 
for them, the name of some dead person, and then went down to the 
water's edge and launched the lantern on the waters. Gradually the lake 
filled with floating lanterns, where they looked like thousands of 
enchanted glow-worms. The children cried out in delight at the spec- 
tacle; here and there a woman stood motionless, gazing fixedly at 1 er 
lantern. 

A month after the o-bon celebrations in Tokyo I had occasion to go 
into the country, to the B5so peninsula to the east of Tokyo, an area 
which possesses in miniature nearly all the beauties characteristic of the 
Japanese landscape: rich valleys with villages or farmhouses hidden by 
trees and surrounded by rice-fields rather like gardens (Photograph 20), 
wooded mountains, water-courses shining in the sun (Photograph 7)* 
a sharply indented coastline, little islands on which strangely twisted 
pines strike root (Photographs 2, 3). Izu, another big peninsula not far 
from Tokyo, is extremely beautiful too, and because of its more striking 
beauties, because it is more dramatically broken up by the sea, because 



84 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

it has more impressive mountains, more terrifying valleys and gorges, 
and has hot springs and magnificent views of Fuji (Photograph i), most 
Japanese and foreigners who make the excursion from Tokyo prefer it. 
Incidentally, in the same westerly direction there are Kamakura, with 
its temples and beaches, the pleasure resorts of Zushi and Enoshima, 
Atami and Hakone, with their hot springs, and Fuji with its 'sea of trees’ 
(ju-kai) and its five lakes; it is easy to justify a much greater fame. 

In the B5s5 peninsula, however, the roads are much freer of traffic 
and each village is more beautiful than the last; they have not yet begun 
to be disfigured by advertisement hoardings, the peasants and fishermen 
receive you with extraordinary charm and hospitality, and old customs 
survive which have changed or disappeared elsewhere. Here you fre- 
quently come across old houses which are half-way between farmhouse, 
villa, and castle, reminiscent of similar places in Tuscany or Venetiaand 
suggesting an ancient, civilized, and loving communion between man 
and the soil. 

Travelling after dusk in B5s5 while a huge, yellow moon rose over 
the rice-fields, we saw lamps flickering in front of all the houses (Photo- 
graph 50 ). O-bott is meticulously observed here, and none of its details 
has been lost. Here, unlike elsewhere, particular emphasis is given to 
the first o-bon after a relative’s death. Neighbours and friends all present 
the bereaved family with a chochin (lantern), often of the fantastic Gifu 
kind; the most popular or most influential people therefore have the 
most lanterns. Outside some houses you see twenty to thirty tremulous 
little flames flickering inside their coloured paper prison, producing 
a most enchanting effect. 

The belief that lies behind the pretty sight is perhaps even more 
enchanting. The lanterns, and sometimes fires ( ogara ), are intended to 
light the way for the dead returning to their homes for the three-day 
festival. It would be bad taste to receive a guest with sighs and long faces, 
and no effort is spared to make the house as clean, tidy, and welcoming 
as possible. Every house is open, and ready to receive guests both visible 
and invisible, and is filled with flowers, fruit, and offerings. The family 
stays on the engawa, the veranda, drinking tea and sometimes saki, in 
happy and peaceful relaxation and repose, the men nearly naked 
because of the heat, while the women stir the air with fans, and the girls 
run about in their best brightly coloured yukata. 



TOEYO, WORLD MELTING-TOT 85 

The'fiction is carried to the point of actually laying a table for the 
dead, and putting ready for their use things they were especially fond 
of during their life-time ;'some special dish, perhaps, or a pipe, a musical 
instrument, a book, a flower; and advantage is taken of the occasion to 
introduce new-born members of the family to them. Often a pail of 
water is put by the door ‘so that they can wash their feet before coming in’. 
Priests go from house to house to say prayers and read sacred texts; and 
some people secretly send for soothsayers (not dissimilar to the shamans 
of Central Asia) to communicate with the dead and seek their counsel. 

After touring the whole peninsula we reached the sea not far from 
Onjuku. Here the mountains plunged steeply into the sea, forming high, 
rocky headlands. The narrow road skirted precipitous places, now as 
black as pitch, now flooded with silvery moonlight, and we passed 
through innumerable tunnels. Nearly every inlet conceded a fishing 
village. Th. .,»hing boats — big ones, of up to twenty or thirty tons — 
were drawn up on the steep beach, and we saw the big capstans used to 
draw them up; nets and seaweed were spread out to dry, together with 
supplies of food, cables, anchors, buoys, hoes, and axes. We spent two 
days in these delightful parts. The hospitality of the people was touch- 
ing; it was impossible to stop outside a house without being invited to 
enter (‘Dozo, o-agari kudasai' 1 ) and take tea, sweets, or soba (shell-fish). Here, 
too, many lanterns were lit for the dead. One more detail about o-bott 
in these parts: on the first day ‘you go and meet the dead on the shore’ 
and on the last ‘you accompany them back to the water’s edge’. In other 
words, the ultimate home is the sea. 

On the way back to Tokyo, nearly at the gates of the city, near the 
great Chiba steelworks, we had a minor breakdown and had to stop 
outside a little cemetery. It was the last night of o-bat. Many people were 
laying offerings on the stones, but it could not be called a mournful 
occasion. The people were chattering and singing, relaxed and cheerful. 
Boys were chasing each other about and the young children were 
playing hide-and-seek between their parents’ legs; all among clouds of 
incense, shining lanterns, and the glare from the bonfire on which faded 
flowers and foliage were thrown. 

1 *Pray come up, honourable sir.' The fact that you are asked to 'come up* and not to 'come In' 
when you enter a Japanese house is a relie of the time when Japa neae houses were bulk on piles; 
they are still built on piles, but only a foot or so high. 



Sculptor of the Ephemeral 

Apropos of flowers and foliage, I paid a visit to an exhibition by the great 
master of flower arrangement, Teshigahara Sofu. 

Teshigahara, or Sofu, as he is invariably called here (like Michel- 
angelo, omitting the Buonarroti), is the SchOnberg of this ancient art, 
which in a way had been ossified by tyrannical traditions : the revolution 
that he introduced was as drastic as the introduction of the twelve-tone 
scale. His field is not restricted to flowers; he has extended his domain 
to the whole of nature. He uses mossy tree-trunks, fruit, cuttlefish bones, 
stones, rusty nails, bottles thrown up by the sea, and a hundred other 
things as the objects of his crazy and marvellous orchestration. He might 
well be called the sculptor of the ephemeral. 

The exhibition was so crowded that it was difficult to make one’s 
way through the throng; and the comments made by the crowd showed 
an extraordinary degree of appreciation and understanding. Indeed, the 
number and variety of exhibitions of all kinds held in Tokyo through- 
out the year testifies to the ardour of Japanese curiosity about all things 
of the mind and their passionate interest in all forms of art. At the 
beginning of June, for instance, there were eight different exhibitions 
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at Ueno, ranging from avant-garde 
paintings and sculpture, traditional painting, water colours, drawings, 
and photography, to bamboo, wood, and metal work. At the National 
Museum of Modern Art there was an architectural exhibition — the 
work of Gropius and the Bauhaus. In the big stores in the centre of the 
town there was an exhibition of old glass (at Isetan’s), of photographs of 
the national parks (at Matsuya’s), painting and sculpture of various 
modern schools (at Matsuzakaya’s, Shirokaya's, and Takashimaya’s), 
of No masks (at Mitsukoshi’s), of various schools of flower arrangement 
(at Shirokaya’s and Matsuzakaya’s). There were also exhibitions at about 
twenty galleries of abstract and non-abstract, traditionalist and non- 
traditionalist, art, of photography, lacquer work, porcelain, and collec- 
tions of the popular arts of various regions and provinces of Japan. 

It is to be noted that the public shows an extraordinarily keen 
interest in all this; that a large number of these exhibitions are held in 
the big stores or organized by the newspapers, whose activities range 
from the organization of Himalayan expeditions to the arrangement of 

86 



TOKYO, VOKLD MBLTlNG-fOT *7 

retrospective exhibitions and concerts and the publication of art books. 
No pernicious distinction is made between major and minor arts, and 
an exhibition of flower arrangement, or lacquer work, or popular arts 
is capable of rousing just as much interest as an exhibition of painting 
or sculpture; and photography, as in America, France, or Germany, is 
now accepted on a plane of absolute equality with other means of 
expression. 


Japtmia capta ferum victorem coepil 

The great area in front of the imperial residence, between Habiya, 
Sakurada-mon and Babasaki-mon, cut up into avenues, lakes, stretches 
of ancient wall, lawns, and clumps of pine-trees, can really be said to 
mirror the mind and history of japan. 1 remember how, before the war. 
when one .^hed a certain spot here in the tram, the ticket-collector 
stood to attention and announced: ‘We have arrived in front of the 
honourable palace; gentlemen are requested to bow as a sign of respect.’ 
Thereupon the passengers all rose to their feet — some even took off 
their overcoats as a sign of even greater respect— and bowed deeply and 
in solemn silence, trying not to lose their balance in the jolting vehicle, 
which would indeed have been absurd and inappropriate at such a 
solemn moment. 

Then the war came, and what a war it was for the unfortunate 
Japanese people ! It lasted so long that they must have ended by believing 
it to be the natural order of things. From 1931 (the occupation of Man- 
churia) to 1937 (the ‘China incident') to 1941 (war in the Pacific) there was 
no relief, but merely a continual worsening. On December 8 , 1941 (Pe*rl 
Harbour), things seemed to touch bottom (or top, depending on the 
point of view); Japan was at war with the world’s greatest Powers. Long 
processions of people of both sexes and of every conceivable age and 
condition made their way more frequently than ever to the space 
outside the Imperial Palace; schoolgirls in uniform, housewives in 
kappogi (white dustcoats which became a kind of uniform too), old men 
in kimonos, railwaymen, schoolboys, wounded soldiers in white, each 
with his Hinomaru-tu-hata (little sun flag), the leaders of each group bearing 
standards, man y of them with robes over their shoulders bearing 
patriotic inscriptions; and they all went to the Niju-bashi, the bridge at 



88 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

the entrance to the palace, to pay homage to the sacred person of the 
Tenno, the ‘king of heaven’. From afar there could be heard the echo of 
the famous songs Roei (‘Bivouac’), Shussei Heishi wo Okuru (‘For soldiers 
leaving for the front*), Akatsuki ni 1mm (‘Prayer to the dawn’) and others 
now forgotten. Then times grew bad; disasters began, the nights grew 
red with fire. And at last the Emperor spoke to his people (an unheard- 
of thing), announcing surrender. I still remember the photographs of 
the many Japanese who took their lives during those days, inevitably 
always in the same place, in sight of the Niju-bashi, the Double Bridge. 
Their bodies lay tidily in a row, face downwards; the requirements of 
etiquette must be scrupulously observed, even in death. 

After the war the centre of interest and attraction appeared for 
a time to be displaced from the Emperor’s invisible palace to the vast 
and extremely visible and impressive mass of the Dai Ichi S5go, chosen 
for his headquarters by the<wi-m«m>j/w 0 OTi (‘the blue-eyed Shogun’), General 
Douglas MacArthur. I remember that at midday, when he left for lunch 
in his car with its five-starred pennant, a crowd of Japanese always 
turned up to see, admire, and even applaud their conqueror. This was 
something that never ceased astonishing Americans and foreigners in 
general. How explain that these enemies of yesterday, who preferred 
being burnt alive to surrender, who committed suicide rather than let 
themselves be taken prisoner, who had sworn to fight to the death, now 
gathered in orderly and spontaneous fashion to offer sincere and 
respectful applause to the principal author of their defeat! To find the 
answer it is again necessary to plunge into the deepest recesses of the 
Japanese mind, to remember the profound immanence of the Japanese 
vision of the universe, according to which all life, divine and human, is 
a single reality, in which there is no conflict between spirit and matter, 
between the ideal and the real. Consequently life can never be wrong. 
By his victory MacArthur had demonstrated the superiority of a certain 
order of things, and this necessarily abolished the preceding order. 
Apart from this, there was in the Japanese attitude a certain affinity 
with the sporting attitude; you fight like a demon to win, and then give 
the winner his due, whoever he may be. In addition, MacArthur under- 
stood extraordinarily well the emotional needs of the Japanese people, 
and in his appearance, manners, and gestures, reminiscent of some 
Renaissance hero, seemed an embodiment of the great captains of four 



TOKYO, VOKLD MELTING-POT 89 

centuries ago, Oda Nobunaga, for instance, or Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 
who made a united empire out of a chaos of conflicting war lords. 
I remember noting with surprise and admiration how General 
MacArthur descended into the throng unarmed, followed only by 
a singularly unmartial-looking bodyguard; anybody who had wanted 
to could have fired a revolver or thrown a bomb at him. But he had 
seen and understood; and the Japanese were grateful to him for his 
confidence in them. 

Gradually, however, things changed; the understanding between 
victors and vanquished could not be expected to last for long on this 
idyllic plane. It is strange that MacArthur, who instinctively understood 
the Japanese so well, should have erred so grossly when he sat down at 
his desk to solve the numerous problems with which the occupation 
confronted him. One after the other directives flowed from his office, 
nrst to the .adehara government, then to the Yoshida government, 
intended radically to reform a society with at least fifteen centuries of 
civilized tradition behind it. He ordered the breaking up of the mono- 
polies (zaibatsu, capitalist cliques), reform of the schools, a new consti- 
tution, the emancipation of women, trials for w'ar criminals. It was 
obvious that a huge abstract scheme, lifted bodily from one civilization 
and imposed like a rigid framework on the living tissue of another, was 
destined to lead to failure, or at any rate to every possible sort of con- 
fusion. Then, on April 10, 1951. MacArthur was recalled by President 
Truman, and misunderstandings multiplied; and the resentment of 
a conquered people towards a conqueror who had acted with a mag- 
nanimity unique in the history of war was given an opport unity o 
consolidate. 

During this period the focal point of interest shifted back to its 
point of origin, the Niju-bashi, the Imperial Palace. People started going 
there as they had done before, and even more than before. In the old 
days it had perhaps been possible to detect in the air the invisible pre- 
sence of the whip in the hands of the military leaders, and there was 
always the suspicion that the crowds who went to the palace might be 
motivated by fear. Now, however, no such suspicion was possible; the 
cheerfulness, serenity, orderliness, with which schools, clubs, trade 
unionists, delegations, families, approached the place of homage spoke 
its unmistakable language. Japanese feelings towards their Emperor, 



90 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

both as an individual and an institution, seem to me to be more alive 
today than ever. 

After the war the big space opposite the Niju-bashi revealed other 
important changes in Japanese life. At the very beginning of the occupa- 
tion, as I have mentioned, no young women were to be seen in the 
streets; then, when the Americans turned out to be decent fellows in 
spite of the prophecies of the rabid nationalists, there was a sudden 
blossoming forth of girls and young women from their hiding-places. 
For a short time there were strict rules against 'fraternization* on the 
American side, but, as was inevitable, these were eventually set aside, 
and the first American-Japanese couples were to be seen in the big space 
opposite the Emperor’s palace; the men, tall, fair, and in uniform, with 
cameras slung from their shoulders, and the girls all smiles and bows, at 
first always in kimonos, but soon looking more self-possessed in ydfuku 
(western dress), with high-heeled shoes and handkerchiefs over their 
heads, rather like tourists enjoying the marvels of the Yellowstone 
National Park. 

To say that American men and Japanese women got on well 
together is a gross understatement; they flung themselves into each 
other’s arms as if they had been waiting for each other all their lives 
(Photographs 149, 150): Japonia capta ferum victorem coepit . Apart from the 
innumerable fleeting or clandestine relationships that were established, 
no fewer than 20,000 ended in marriage. Incidentally it should be noted 
that in practically 100 per cent of these cases the man was American and 
the woman Japanese; instances in which the man was Japanese and the 
woman American could be counted on the fingers of one hand. That 
was a phenomenon that anyone with a little familiarity with the con- 
trasting psychologies of the two parties had no difficulty in explaining. 

What the American male found in Japan was Woman, Woman with 
a capital W. American women undoubtedly make excellent wives and 
mothers, but not lovers. Japan brought the American male the revela- 
tion of Woman in a light that he had not hitherto believed possible; he 
discovered the most exquisite tenderness and abandon, a mind enriched 
by suffering, sensitive to poetry, desirous of dedication; for the first time 
in|his life he discovered himself to be not half of a couple, but a whole 
man. True, he also discovered sinuous feline manoeuvres, a language of 
looks, sighs, hints, a dangerous art of invisible scratches and sometimes 



TOKYO, WORLD MELTING-POT 


91 


insidious traps. But all this was exquisitely feminine and, above all, it 
was something entirely new. Also there was the attraction of Woman 
entirely lacking in a sense of original sin about the pleasures of life. It 
should be noted that by this I do not imply sensual refinements; on the 
contrary. The latter require repression of instincts, and westerners, both 
men and women, are actually much more sensual than the Japanese. 
What I mean rather is a serene acceptance of the good things that life 
has to offer (food, drink, rest, the bath, love, beauty, art) rather than the 
carpere diem spirit, the need anxiously to snatch a smile in the face of 
remorse and repentance to come. Finally there was the enchantment of 
an exotic little face and a perfect amber skin, indeed worthy of the 
daughters and granddaughters of marine deities. 

On the other hand, the American male, groomed and tamed and 
made submissive by the American female, seemed to the Japanese female 
to be the fr T .ment of her wildest dreams. Her tremulous, changeable 
mind, accustomed to having to conceal itself, to hold its peace, ever 
ready to resort to the most intricate and devious means to attain the 
most legitimate ends, to masquerade like one of those dwarf trees 
trained by the gardener to simulate a forest m two inches of earth, con- 
ditioned to obedience by centuries of submission or to the sadness of 
petty revolts promptly crushed between the paper of the shoji and the 
silk of the lamotc, now suddenly walked abroad in a heaven of under- 
standing, gentle affection, and warm-hearted confidence. Here was 
a man who treated her like a queen ! Not only did he open the door to 
let her pass, not only did he offer her his seat, not only did he hold her 
hand in the street, and help her up a step that was slightly steeper thin 
usual, but he wanted to stay with her at all times and share his pleasures 
and amusements with her; and, finally, he opened his mind to her 
without restraint, not withholding anything of himself. He was an 
adorable big baby, strong, rich, powerful, kind, tender, and gentle. 

No doubt the lovers, if left to themselves, would have been happy. 
But nobody ever marries just a woman or a man; you also inevitably 
marry an environment, a society; and societies, whether Japanese or 
American, have always been hard. As can be easily imagined, Japanese 
women who associated with foreigners immediately became the target 
of the jealousy of their compatriots, both male and female. Japanese 
women who were left out in # the cold naturally loathed them; and 



92 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

Japanese men who were left out in the cold too, unable to compete with 
these rich Americans, naturally loathed them even more. The kindest 
of the accusations that were flung at them was of ‘selling themselves 9 
to these foreigners, and this of course led to every kind of unpleasant- 
ness, and to the dragging of beautiful dreams in the mud. The Americans, 
however liberal their intentions were in principle, had to take account 
of the reactions of the Middle West and the Deep South, and the story 
did not, on the whole, have a happy ending. Most of the delightful 
little wives whom the Americans took home, rather like living souvenirs 
from the island at the other end of the world, ended by going back to 
Japan again, a little older and a little wiser. 

This was the normal end of the affair at the most elevated and 
respectable level, but there was also the vast ocean of temporary associa- 
tions and venal and degrading contacts (Photograph 147). Around the 
American camps there arose monstrous cities of vice, of which Chitose, 
in Hokkaido, and Tachikawa, near Tokyo, were perhaps the most 
fantastic examples. Things grew to such a pitch that no sooner was there 
talk of opening an American office or quartering foreign soldiers in any 
part of a Japanese town than people started writing indignant letters to 
the newspapers and defence committees were set up. For the public at 
large this was the blackest aspect of the occupation, and one of the 
deepest causes of anti-American feeling. 




3 



The Eastern Seaway 


High Priest of the Rails 

T he history of Japan has several times been described as a succession 
of periods in which the nation drinks eagerly at foreign sources and 
then withdraws into itself to digest and elaborate. In the fifth, sixth, and 
seventh centuries a.d. Japan absorbed Buddhism and Chinese civiliza- 
tion. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there was a first, agitated, 
contact with the west; and finally, after 1854 and the visit of Commodore 
'erry, she ah* ' Joned her isolation and united her destiny with that of 
the rest of the world. 

After several years of conflict between the advocates and opponents 
of modernization, the Emperor Meiji mounted the throne, and in 1868 
the capital was transferred from Kyoto to Yedo, which was thereupon 
renamed Tokyo (‘eastern capital*), and the country was seized with 
a mania for all western things; everything that came from Europe or 
America seemed precious, and the literature of the period is filled with 
pathetically naive hymns to progress, science, international amity, etc., 
etc. Everything traditional fell into such disrepute that for a time one 
of the loveliest Kyoto pagodas was up for sale at the price that it would 
fetch for firewood; fortunately no buyer appeared. One of the greatest 
poets of the period, Tachibana Akemi (1812-1868), expressed in verse the 
feelings of the traditionalists submerged by the tide of modernism: 


Tanoshimi wa 
Ebisu yorokobu 
Yo n 0 naka ni 
Mikuni wasurenu 
Hito wo miru told . 


It is a pleasure 

When, in these days of delight 
In all things foreign, 

I come across a man who 
Does not forget our Empire . 1 


In this atmosphere of passionate admiration for the ehisu, the 
western barbarians, the first railway line in Japan was opened in 1872; 
it covered the twenty miles fi;om Tokyo to Yokohama, and was the 

1 D. Kibnb, Anthology of Japomtt Liter aton, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd* its*. 

93 





The first train ever seen by the Japanese; that presented by Commodore Perry to 
the Shogun Iyesada in 1854. The artist observes in his own handwriting: ‘Steam 
vehicle . . faced with its complicated mechanisms, my power of observation fails; 
I fear 1 have made many errors in this sketch.* 

(From Coatonporary Japan, Tokyo, Vol. XXH, 1-3* I9JJ) 


THE EASTERN SEAVAT 


99 


work of British engineers. The Emperor Meiji honoured the inaugural 
ceremony with his presence, wearing the ancient court costume called 
naoshi and attended by a suite also dressed in traditional robes, with long 
sabres denoting authority. The royal party mounted the train and were 
driven to Yokohama. Before the train drew out a message from the 
Emperor was read in which, among other things, he expressed the hope 
that ‘the whole people will wish to use this means, thanks to which 
commerce will prosper and millions will obtain riches". The Italian 
Count Alessandro Fea, doyen of the diplomatic corps, replied in the 
name of the foreign representatives. 

The newspapers excelled themselves in honour of the occasion. 
Nichi Nichi (which means ‘day by day*) of September 6 , 1872, said: *ln its 
rapid course the train will be like wind or the clouds. . . . History records 
f io such event since the days of our first Emperor Jimmu* (i.f., 2,000 
years ago), iiie day naturally ended with firevorks and the sending 
up of coloured balloons . 1 Illustrations of the period show the marvel- 
lous toy puffing clouds of smoke, like a fundamentally benevolent 
monster, a living symbol of all that was new and therefore beautiful 
and right. 

Perhaps because the railway came to the Japanese at such an im- 
portant, such a profoundly lyrical, moment in their history, it has 
always remained particularly dear to them. In a few decades railways 
spread throughout the Japanese archipelago. Because of the moun- 
tainous nature of the country, nearly every mile of track represents an 
engineering feat. Though the longest tunnel does not exceed about six 
miles, the number of tunnels, bridges, viaducts, embankments ptr 
mile of track is among the highest in the world. The service is good, 
though the narrow gauge prevents high speeds. There has been little 
electrification, no doubt because of the ample coal supply, particularly 
in the northern isle (Hokkaido) and the southern (Kyushu). 

One of the most characteristic personages of the Japanese railway 
world is the station-master. His elegant person, his violet uniform, his 
red, gold-laced cap seem to exude an andent Confucian wisdom, to 
inspire a sense of awe and authority belonging to another age. Some- 
times he is like an admiral skilfully manoeuvring his terrestrial fleet, and 
he moves about the platforms {solemnly, austerely, imposing universal 

1 Nitobi and others. Western In jknm is Uedenjofm, Chicago, mi. 



96 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

respect; sometimes he seems rather a high priest, a patriarch of travel, 
a pontiff of the time-table, particularly if you happen to catch him 
slowly, ceremoniously, and with immense dignity extracting his watch, 
a heavy silver affair on a chain, from his uniform pocket His severe and 
sometimes exalted expression on these occasions is like that of one 
immersed in the music of the spheres. 

For the westerner the Japanese station-master provides perhaps the 
simplest and most readily accessible illustration of the Far Eastern con- 
ception of authority, which differs so vastly from ours. In the west for 
the past 2,000 years spiritual and temporal authority have almost invari- 
ably been distinct. True, Charlemagne’s new Roman Empire was called 
Holy, and the Kings of England since Henry Vm have also been heads 
of the Church of England. But these are exceptions, and until recent 
times all ordinary western monarchs have aspired to the sanction of the 
religious authority, which was universally recognized as being autono- 
mous and distinct. The eastern approach is different, however; where 
the west distinguishes and differentiates, it tends instinctively to unify. 
Authority is one and indivisible, uniting the sacred and the profane, 
heaven and earth, the civil and the military, the visible and the invisible. 
The Emperor of China was the Son of Heaven, had a celestial mandate; 
the Emperor of Japan is the Tamo, the King of Heaven or Heavenly King, 
in whom all the lines of force of the nation converge. 

Such fundamental differences of approach are reflected in details 
of everyday life; the whole river is coloured by the nature of the spring 
at its source. The attitude to the highest authority is in some measure 
reflected in the attitude to the most modest official. In the west civil 
authority is felt, both by those who exercise it and those subject to it, 
to be an eminently practical device, an answer to strictly practical 
problems. You wave the flag and send the train on its journey, I am 
responsible for the village water supply, he teaches the children. That, 
however, is not the situation in the Far East, where the aura of the 
unifying authority at the summit perceptibly descends into the field of 
ordinary life. In Japan a numinous quality surrounds in greater or lesser 
degree those who even in the most indirect manner represent the state, 
i.e., the Emperor. When you are brought face to face with such a person 
you bow deeply, when you pass near him you cast down your eyes, or 
even draw in your breath in that characteristic sibilant manner that 



THE EASTEEN SEAWAY 


97 


indicates embarrassment or reverence and was described by Pierre Loti 
as a viper's hiss. 

Japanese station-masters almost invariably seem fully aware of thdr 
august position. True, in the course of years I have come across slovenly, 
rude, and hustling station-masters, but there are exceptions to every 
rule. The overwhelming majority seem to regard their work with an 
ancient dignity. Immediately after the war, when the country was in 
ruins, they were the only men in uniform who held their heads high. 
They seemed to be saying to the allied soldiers sitting on the blue velvet 
cushions in the second class: Those militarist rogues thought they were 
stronger than you and deceived the Emperor, and you rightly defeated 
them. Now the only true representatives of the Emperor are we, the 
soldiers of travel, the faithful servants of the people.’ And they looked 
the blond travellers, their recent enemies, straight in the eye. 

In Japa^ .«e railway is the means of communication par excellence . 1 
The Japanese are always travelling, and they enjoy it; any excuse will 
do: to visit an aunt, a customer, a temple, to do business, to go on a 
pilgrimage, to visit dying relatives or new-born children. The railway 
corresponds to the Japanese way of life; it is paternalistic at the top and 
gregarious at the bottom. First-class compartments are rare, and are to 
be found only on the most important lines; second-class compartments 
are few, but the third-class compartments, with their green velvet seats, 
which are often torn, are as abundant as the sands of the sea. The trains 
are always full of people travelling in parties. Every school organizes 
one or two excursions a year, so that all or nearly all children who 
receive secondary education know the famous places of their country ; 
young people travel in parties to the sea, to rivers and lakes, to fish, to the 
mountains to climb or ski; the old visit shrines and temples; trade and 
professional organizations hold congresses, trade unions arrange meet- 
ings and processions. Women, children, old people, big men, little men, 
the rich, the poor, runaway lovers, commercial travellers, everybody is 
always travelling everywhere by train. 


* Hie number of traveller-miles is amopg the highest in the world. In ism, in round figures, 
it was S7 ,mo million. 

G 



Car and Individual 


The Japanese roads, however, are grossly neglected . 1 It is true that for 
strategic reasons the militarist discouraged and at times actually pro- 
hibited their construction, but no people would submit to such absurd 
restrictions in the absence of a solid psychological background which 
made them acceptable. Bicycles are all right, and so are buses and lorries, 
but cars are a different matter. True, Japan is a poor country, and cars 
are still a great luxury, but, even apart from that, most Japanese would 
think twice or three times before buying a car even if it were well 
within their means. 

A car implies individualism, independence, making sudden de- 
cisions, all things which go against the grain of the Japanese mentality. 
In a country of such close social texture individual initiative is funda- 
mentally suspect; even the Japanese word for individual, private, 
hojm-no, and its derivatives, often have the connotation of selfish- 
ness. Independence for the Japanese implies helplessness, lack of 
support. 

Cars as such are by no means despised; every Japanese would be 
delighted to fouler en bagnole, as the French put it in that delightfully 
untranslatable phrase; but he would want a driver at the wheel. 
Driving himself would imply revolutionizing several aspects of his life. 
In the first place, the sheer speed of driving involves sudden and unex- 
pected meetings and situations, the full family, civic, and ceremonial 
implications of which there is no time to weigh up. You might meet 
people whom you wished discreetly to avoid, for instance, or find your- 
self suddenly faced with superiors or inferiors whom you would have to 
greet without being able to show them the exactly appropriate degree 
of respect, thus risking making irreparable errors, etc., etc. In other 
words, you would have to reveal yourself, a thing which the Japanese 
generally try to avoid. Then there is the grave question of responsibility 
(sdtinm). On this point one must do the Japanese justice; they possess it 
to an outstanding degree. A Japanese is not an individual; he is a cog in 
a delicate social mechanism. His rights and duties are meticulously 
defined, and as a rule he takes them very seriously. Mentally he is 
always surrounded by superiors and inferiors, to both of whom he is 

a Sa Photographs is, so. 


98 



THE BASTEEN SEAWAY ^ H 

bound by a sense of deeply felt moral obligation (gin) and responsibility. 
As all this constitutes a burden, no Japanese wishes to increase the share 
of sekimn imposed upon him by life. Now, supposing an accident hap- 
pened while he was driving, apart altogether from the financial conse- 
quences, the result would be an upheaval in his tidy world of moral 
obligations. Supposing— which heaven forbid !— he ran over a man and 
killed him, he would obviously have to provide for his family. But the 
burden would not be financial only; a vast, almost unlimited, area of 
moral obligation, of a kind inconceivable in the west, would be involved. 
If, for instance, ten years later the dead man's son misbehaved himself 
and went to prison, the driver would be held responsible; or he might 
find himself under an obligation to find husbands for the deceased's 
daughters; driving, in other words, involves the risk of stirring up 
a wasp’s nest of never-ending troubles. But if you employ a driver, all 
these thing, .an be neatly settled with the aid of a set of elegant fictions; 
only the question of financial compensation remains. 

The consequence of all this is that, while there are many motor- 
vehicles in Japan (in 1954 there were 1,338.313). private cars are few (*i,893)» 
i.t., about one to every thousand inhabitants. 

But to return to the roads, which we are to take to today, for we 
are leaving for Kyoto. With great difficulty I succeeded in hiring a car, 
and without Giorgio I should never have succeeded. I went to a number 
of garages, but the result was always the same; the owner was perfectly 
willing to hire me a car, but as soon as I explained that I wanted to drive 
he started scratching his neck and his head, and explained that he was 
very sorry indeed, but never in his life had he done such a thing as hre 
a car to a customer who wanted to drive himself, and he would not even 
know how to set about the necessary formalities. Finally I gave it up, and 
went to see Giorgio in his office over one of the many canals in lower 
Tokyo. I might have been in Venice, with reflections of the sun and the 
waves on the ceiling, and the sound of barges passing under the window, 
loaded with coal, cement, machinery. Giorgio was simultaneously 
telephoning to Hongkong, dictating a letter in English, and talking 
French to a South American seated by his desk. I waited a while, and 
looked at Giorgio’s magnificent library of art history; it is one of the 
finest in the world. Not only does it contain everything that has been 
published in a dozen languages about Japanese art, but a large number 



100 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

of ancient manuscripts, some of them rare. Meanwhile the inter- 
continental storm continued behind me. ‘Moshi moshi! [Hallo 1 ] Motto 
hakkiri hanashite kudosed! [Speak more distinctly, please!] Well, let’s get on 
with the letter. I shall eventually return the samples, if . . . Bien sur.je 
hu ai dit qu'il faut oiler au Gaimusho, au Mmistire des Affaires £trangires. Moshi 
moshi, hoi wakarimashita [I understand]. . . .' 

When the whirlwind subsided I dared to approach. I have always 
been greatly impressed at the sight of Giorgio at his desk; it is like being 
face to face with a deity who embodies at least eight of the ten ideals on 
which modem society lives; and at bottom I understand very well why 
he does not want to leave Japan. Here, at the heart of his empire, his 
mind sparks like an engine, a concentrated International Business 
Machine, he spreads his tentacles across the oceans, he defies the 
barriers of language, his eyes search out hearts, goods, grammars, 
philosophies, sensations. What would he be in Rome! Outside his 
own civilization he is a citizen of the moon, a most intoxicating 
experience. 

‘I know what you want and I’ve got the answer already,’ he said to 
me, with the smile of the conjurer producing the rabbit out of the hat. 
‘Sit down and wait while I telephone.’ 

He dialled a number, and an American or English voice answered. 

‘Go to 336 Tamura cho, Icchom£, and ask for Jennings,’ Giorgio 
finally announced. ‘It’s an old Chevrolet, but he’ll let you have it cheap, 
30,000 yen a month. It’s a piece of luck. He’s going to America, and is 
delighted to be able to earn something while he’s away. Good-bye, 
good-bye, I’ll see you this evening. I’m terribly busy now!’ 


Along the Tokaido 

A short motor highway leading to Yokohama via Omori helps the 
traveller leaving Tokyo for the south ; it is broad, the surface is excellent, 
and there is plenty of traffic. We passed many lorries, motorized tri- 
cycles, and miniature cars, and every now and then we were overtaken 
by big cars bearing the special number-plate 3A and containing American 
officers. Cars registered in Tokyo-to (the Tokyo metropolitan area) 
have no distinguishing sign; in the case of those registered elsewhere the 
number of the vehicle is preceded by the initial ideogram of the name 



THE EASTEEN SEAVAY 


Ml 


of the province; it is also preceded by the figure i in the case of lorries, 
2 in the case of cabs, j in the case of big private can and 4 in the case of 
small private cars. Because of the shocking sute of the roads you tardy 
see cars from another province. Just now we passed a car with an ideo- 
gram reading him, obviously from Hiroshima. Needless to say, it was 
a jA. Hardly anyone except the Americans undertakes a long journey 
by car; the Japanese, and I do not blame them, prefer the train. The 
distance by road from Tokyo to Hiroshima is about jso miles, and any 
sensible person would allow at least three days for it. 

You do not reach the country proper until you have left Yokohama 
behind; Tokyo-Kawasaki- Yokohama is a huge urban complex, more 
than forty miles across at its widest, with nearly 10 million inhabitants. 
It was a relief to escape from the factory chimneys at last. For several 
miles we proceeded at a short distance from the coast; occasionally 
the road climbed and then descended again. Fverv now and then we 
caught glimpses of blue sea framed between two promontories, and we 
passed through many long agricultural villages with old houses and 
beautifully thatched roofs. The asphalt road surface was still good. 
Sometimes we might have been travelling down an avenue in a park; 
tall, twisted pines lined both sides of the road. We were travelling along 
what for thousands of years has been the great artery of Japan, the 
Tokaido, the Eastern Seaway. 

It was called this because the ancient Japanese looked at their islands 
from the Yamato area. A people’s origins colour its life for many cen- 
turies. Why are the Italians, for instance, so little devoted to the seal 
Because the Italian peninsula was for the most part populated from tfce 
continent; our ancestors crossed the Alps and continued south until 
they came to the sea; the sea was the end of the journey, a final, insuper- 
able obstacle. The few groups with a strong maritime tradition, such 
as the Ligurians, the Neapolitans, and the Venetians, formed round 
nuclei of eastern Mediterranean ongin, i.e., arrived by sea. The slightness 
of the Italian knowledge of the water is shown by the relatively small 
proportion of the population that can swim,* their decided preference 
for meat to fish, their clothing, and other things as well. A people with 
true maritime traditions, like the Japanese, have a positive cult for 
swimming, prefer fish to meat, pnd use every imaginable product of the 

r. Loamo-ftac, n v«a* SamtMi tOf lutk, Milan, p. xu. 



102 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

sea, including seaweed, which incidentally is rich in vita min s and is 
delicious. 

But to return to the ancient Japanese. In the eighth and ninth 
centuries civilization in the Japanese archipelago barely reached the 
Kwanto, the area where Tokyo stands today. The area to the west and 
north of it was covered by the thick forests of Dewa and Mutsu, two 
remote territories inhabited by emishi (barbarians), the ancestors of the 
present-day Ainu, of whom we shall speak later. Here I shall mention 
only that they were stubborn enemies of the Japanese, who fought them 
in a war that lasted practically for a generation. A Japanese general, 
Ki no Kosami, was defeated by them at the battle of Morioka in 790; 
until 194} this was technically the only defeat in Japanese history. The 
Tokaido was thus the road that led to the eastern sea, the sea beyond 
the Izu peninsula; the road to the Far East, using the term in the sense 
that Americans talk of the Far West, the road of the pioneers, of con- 
quest, of advancing civilization. 

After 1185, when Minamoto Yoritomo, the first of the long line of 
shoguns who governed Japan for centuries, leaving nothing but impres- 
sive court ceremonial to the Emperor, established his military govern- 
ment (bakufu) at Kamakura, a few miles from the site of present-day 
Tokyo, the Tokaido became very important indeed. Imagine England 
with a king in Edinburgh and a government in London; that was the 
situation that lasted in Japan for nearly joo years. The road between the 
two became the nation’s vital artery. The Tokaido, with its fifty-three 
stages, is a constant theme in Japanese literature, folklore, and art. Who 
has not seen at any rate some of the famous prints of Hiroshige (1797- 
i8]S) belonging to the series called the Fifiy-Three Stages on the Tokaido l 

But the most famous work, which keeps the Tokaido alive in the 
Japanese imagination — rather as Verona lives in ours because of 
Romeo and Juliet, and the hills of Settignano because of Boccaccio’s 
tales— is the Hisakurige, a satirical novel in fifty-six parts by Jippensha 
Ikku (1766-18)1), published between 1802 and 1822, describing the adven- 
tures of two attractive rogues named Yaji and Kita, who travel along the 
road on Shanks’s pony. Western critics writing of Yaji and Kita recall 
Falstaff, Sancho Panza, Tartarin, the Pickwick Papers, and Mark Twain, but 
perhaps a better comparison would be with the Satyriam of Petronius. 

Yaji’s and Kita's travels consist of an endless series of imbroglios, 



THE EASTEEN SEAVAT fl>) 

amorous adventures, unexpected encounters, quarrels with creditors, 
flights, fisticuffs, jokes, and drinking bouts. The whole popular Japanese 
world of the period lives in these pages; noisy and amorous serving- 
maids, country samurai who become enraged over trifles and are regu- 
larly outwitted by humble townsmen; obsequious inn-keepers and 
greedy priests; renin (masterless samurai), who are often rogues but some- 
times strangely idealistic figures; porters, servants, thieves, horse- 
dealers, whores. Anyone who believes the Japanese to be humourless 
fanatics always ready to commit hara-kiri should read the Htzdntrige to 
feel pulsating in every line the gay and irrepressible humanity of these 
people. 

At Fujisawa we branched off to Kamakura. For more than a century 
this town was the residence of the shoguns, and of their deputies the 
Hojo '^ikken, and thu* gave its name to a whole period of Japanese history, 
the Kamakura petiou (1185-1333), during which art, particularly sculpture, 
flourished . 1 Nowadays Kamakura is in a state of rapid development. 
Round the ancient centre, where a number of important temples with 
many works of art are preserved, a residential area has grown up where 
many artists and writers live. It is also a seaside resort, and once a year, 
in August, a tremendous American-style carnival is held, with drum 
majorettes leading a procession of floats. At Kamakura there is also 
a famous forty-foot-high statue of the Buddha; it was made in 1252 and 
stood inside a temple which was destroyed by a tidal wave in 1495; it now 
stands, huge and solitary, in the middle of a park. From the artistic point 
of view it is second-rate, but it is a great tourist attraction; everybody 
must have seen an illustration of it some time, whether in a book, or 
on a postcard, or on postage sumps which were in circulation for many 
years. 

The Nude in Art and Life 

We spent the night at a villa belonging to Giorgio at Aumi, which is 
one of the famous Japanese onsen. Its name is written with the two 
characters for ‘hot* and 'sea'. At Giorgio’s villa, like all those at Atami, 
there is a bath which is filled twice daily with water from one of the 
many hot spring? of the neighbourhood. 

1 5m Photograph n> 



104 


MEETING WITH JATAN 

We were about to enter the o-fisn, the honourable hath, when we 
heard Giorgio's voice. He had unexpectedly decided to join us, and invited 
us to bathe and dine with a party of friends in the village down below. 

As we had taken off our western clothes, we put on yukata, light 
summer cotton kimonos, and accompanied him. As soon as we emerged 
from the quiet street in which the villa stood we found ourselves in the 
midst of the evening hubbub of Atami; a crowd of people, all in their 
yukata, were taking the air, boys were playing about, geishas were balanc- 
ing on their geta, boys on bicycles were carrying trays full of food, girls 
were walking about in twos and threes, talking and laughing, there were 
even a few riki-sha (rickshaws); peaceful peasant families were taking the 
air before their evening rice, there were wealthy families, poor ones, 
clerks, allied soldiers with their pam-pam, nouveaux riches with their 
enormous American cars. 

The gay, carefree crowd of strollers was contained between two 
rows of shops, restaurants, hotels, pachinko halls, shooting booths, with 
the usual phantasmagoria of neon lights. Gramophones and wireless 
sets filled the air with competing tunes. Here and there the lights and 
music faded, the crowd thinned, the houses for some reason were less 
close to one another. Then you noticed that the moon was rising, and 
that in a house standing almost invisible in its garden a woman was 
singing, accompanying herself on the samisen , the Japanese lute, the small 
box of which is always covered with cat's skin. The Japanese are at 
bottom a complicated, introverted, tense people, but one thing they 
thoroughly understand is the art of relaxation. 

There are many restaurants-hotels-bathing establishments at 
Atami, ranging from huge affairs with a roma-buro (Roman bath), resplen- 
dent with marble columns, etc., to smaller and more elegant establish- 
ments on the one hand and cheaper and more popular ones on the 
other. At the place chosen by Giorgio we were shown to the pine 
room. Generally this is the best room in a Japanese hotel, followed by 
the bamboo and the plum rooms. 

The pine room was big and opened on to the magnificent bay of 
Atami. Giorgio and his guests were already squatting round a low 
lacquer table. From his position in relation to the tekonama it was easy to 
discern who was the most important guest, a young Japanese who had 
just returned from Europe. Next to Giorgio was a girl of striking beauty. 



THE EASTEEN SEAVAT M) 

Introductions followed. It was strange to be wearing kimonos in the 
presence of Japanese dressed in sebiro (western style, from Savile Row). 

The conversation was about France, from where Kotaki had just 
returned. He talked about the forthcoming exhibition of French art in 
Tokyo, of which he seemed to be one of the organisers. The French 
have a great reputation in Japan, a country which they take seriously 
instead of regarding it as the land of paper lanterns and Madame Butterfly. 
Interesting though the conversation was, I confess that I could not take 
my eyes off the girl. When Giorgio spoke to her, she bowed in the 
delightful manner peculiar to Japanese women, signifying assent, 
submission, affection. 

There was a shining, morning, virginal quality about the beauty of 
Tamako (‘Jewel’), for that seemed to be her name. If she had been a 
flov"r, she would have been a daffodil, if a stone an aquamarine. 
Though not smaii— seated she actually appeared to be rather tall— she 
might have come straight out of a miniature. There are women drawn 
by bold and charming strokes of nature’s brush who are made to be 
looked at from a certain distance; they are the daughters of Renoir or 
Degas. Others are the daughters of Bronzino, Van Eyck, or Ku-Kaichi. 
Tama belonged to the latter type; her complexion, like that of so many 
Japanese women, reminded one of living porcelain. In a country of great 
racial uniformity it is difficult to be beautiful; there is little variety of 
type, of blonde, brunette, redhead, and all the intervening shades. 
Here things are more subtle, like music on a solo instrument. Tama 
could not have understood herself more perfectly; she could not have 
done better than tie her black hair back, like some strange, shining, 
tropical apple, at the back of her head, and wear that simple, tea- 
coloured yukata of plain country cloth, tied round the waist with an obi 
with bow at the back. 

Indefinable details about her dress, her person, her gestures, made 
me conclude that she belonged to that vast Japanese world referred to 
by the name karyu-iai (‘the world of flowers and willows’)— the world of 
transient things; an expression deeply rooted in Buddhism, for which 
nothing is permanent, all is a fleeting illusion ; it is also par excel l en ce the 
world of the geisha, the stage, of affections that change with the season, 
of memory that fades, like the perfume of a flower pressed between the 
pages of a forgotten book. 



106 MEETING WITH JAEAN 

In Japan there are on the one hand women brought up to be wives 
and mothers, on the other those brought up to be the repositories of the 
ancient arts, of everything which the Americans include under the 
term 'social graces'. It is a conception completely alien to our own. 
Present-day Japanese youth proposes to rebel against this order of 
things, but change in these matters is invariably very slow, and genera- 
tions will be required. 

t Sa, o-furo t ikimashoha ?' (Shall we move towards the bath?) 

Giorgio’s question interrupted my contemplation of Tama, who 
was talking to the hotel proprietress. The old lady in her ash-coloured 
kimono must have been telling her something very funny, because she 
leant back on one arm and laughed, every now and then hiding her face 
behind her tomato, the long wing of her sleeve. 

We men got up, took our tenugui (small towels), and moved away. 

The interior of a Japanese hotel is essentially a system 
of corridors. A basic principle of Far Eastern building 
is that you obtain increased space, not by increasing 
a building’s size, but by duplicating or multiplying it 
by a number of pavilions, detached wings, or rooms, 
arranged in a casual manner on no fixed pattern, 
which you reach, perhaps, by way of a little bridge or 
veranda. We went down a little staircase, walked 
down a slightly sloping veranda, then down another 
staircase and another corridor, and then crossed a 
little bridge, where there were fountains, and some 
small maple trees, and came to the entrance to the 
big bath with its dressing-rooms. On the door of the first was the ideo- 
gram for Man, formed of the two roots ‘field* and ‘strength’, work and 
soil; on the other was the ideogram for Woman, originally a bending 
figure attending to house-work. 

We left our clothes in a wicker basket and went down to the bath- 
house, a big apse-shaped hall, in the middle of which was the pool, which 
was circular, about ten yards across and eighteen inches deep; in the 
centre warm water gurgled from a rough rock hewn into the shape of 
a pinnacle. On three sides of the pool there were ups, to enable you to 
wash before entering the pool, the water of which must always be kept 
scrupulously dean. There were already a few people in the bath, two 




THE EASTEEN SEAVAT M7 

men and three or four women, one accompanied by her children, who 
were splashing about and making an enormous noise. 

In the west the nude is accepted in art, but not in ordinary life; in 
the east it is accepted in life, but not in art. Nowadays statues or paintings 
of the nude are often to be seen in )apan, but that is a recently imported 
innovation. The attitude towards the nude involves the deepest emo- 
tional levels. That of the west is exceedingly complex. On the one hand 
there is the result of 2,000 years of repression by the Church, not only in 
the interest of safeguarding chastity, but also as a consequence of the 
doctrine that the human body is sacred (the resurrection of the flesh) 
and therefore must not be exposed, either to desire or to mockery. To 
this there must be added our highly developed sensitivity to physical 
ugliness, due to the fact that classical art has accustomed the eye to 
ver definite canons and ideals of beauty. Many westerners Vi/ho have 
no moral objeiuon to nudity are nevertheless distressed at the thought 
that only the young and healthy are beautiful. In Japan many factors 
weighed and still weigh in the opposite direction. In the first place the 
primary national religion, Shinto, has always attached the highest 
importance to ritual purity; hence ablutions (misogi) and the bath; 
secondly. Buddhism, though it holds life to be sacred because of the 
mysterious workings of karma , regards the body as nothing but an illusory 
outer covering; and finally, the Japanese have never had artistic canons 
of beauty about the human form; hence the naked human body, even if 
anything but young and healthy, is not felt to offend objective aesthetic 
values, and is accepted as naturally as a tree-trunk or the naked body 
of a horse. The equation nudity-lasciviousness is a purely cultural 
phenomenon which is to be found in certain civilizations and is typical 
of the west; there is no necessary link between the two. 

‘How delightful to be able to take a Japanese bath!* Kotaki ex- 
claimed. ‘In Europe I liked everything — the people, the life, the sim- 
plicity of relations between friends, even the cooking, to say nothing of 
the art ! There was only one thing I really missed: our baths. In Europe 
you clean yourself; here you refresh yourself.’ 

At that moment a glass door opened and Tama appeared, naked, 
delightfully innocent, holding her tenugui in front of her in the gesture of 
I do not remember which famous Venus, but surely a minor deity of 
some sacred spring, bom of the water, with the perfume of the entrails 



108 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

of the earth till lingering about her. As soon as she noticed that our 
western eyes were gazing upon her entranced* she vanished into the 
group of other women, turned her back on us, and started washing the 
back of her neck. 


View of the Divine Mountain 

Next morning we climbed the hill that in the course of a few miles 
mounts nearly 3.000 feet to the Hakone pass to rejoin the Tokaido. The 
road was abominable, little better than a mule-track. Below us Atami 
dwindled into the green of the woods, while the sea seemed to grow in 
size, as it does when one gains height, and the islands near and far 
assumed a proper place in the perspective. We could plainly see Oshima 
('Big Island’), an active volcano rising directly from the waves. Many 
Japanese suicides jump into its crater. 

The countries of the world can be divided into green and yellow. 
The yellow countries are those blinded with sunlight, with little foliage, 
like the islands and peninsulas of the Mediterranean, Mexico, Tibet, 
Australia; the green countries are those carpeted with chlorophyll. 
Perhaps it should be added that there are also grey countries (smoke, 
steel, coal) and white ones (ice). Japan belongs definitely to the green 
category. The climate is damp, and vegetation flourishes . 1 Beneath its 
mantle of fields and meadows, woods and forests, the bare earth or 
naked rock is hard to detect Only in the high mountains (the Japanese 
Alps, parts of Hokkaido, the volcanoes), and along the coasts of the 
Inland Sea, where there is little rain, is it possible to see the framework, 
the skeleton, of the country (Photographs 6 , 24). 

Japan’s wealth of forest is remarkable, as is the fact that man has 
not destroyed it, as he has in so many other parts of the world; instead, 
having created a whole civilization based on its products, he preserves 
it lovingly; a civilization of wood and paper— houses, temples, objects of 
everyday use, boats, umbrellas, windows, handkerchiefs, books, and 
newspapers, even clothes; wood and paper are intricately bound up 
with Japanese civilization in innumerable ways. The forests are mag- 

*Sm Photograph! 7 (valley In the Japenera Alpi). • (Kegon waterfall at NlkkoX at (Tenryn 
river in flood). 



THB BASTB1N SBAWAY 


nificent, the coniferous and deciduous forests of Hokkaido and Tohoku 
(‘the north-east'), the sugi (cryptomerias), and the strange, grassy forests 
of bamboo. 

Still climbing, we came to the Atami toge (pass) at over 2,000 feet. 
From here the road continues more or less level for several miles along 
the flank of a wooded mountainside towards the Hakone pass. The road 
was asphalt here, and we had to pay a toll. The views change every 
minute, and they are all on a vast scale, which is rare in Japan, where 
everything, including mountains, valleys, and bays, is small. We left the 
gulf of Sagami behind, and ahead of us the gulf of Saruga opened up, 
with new promontories fading into the blue distance. Sagami and 
Suruga, Suruga and Kai are names that no longer appear in any official 
atlas, but are full of fascination to the Japanese ear. In the seventh 
cen^ry the poet Mushimaro wrote: 

Lo! There towers the lofty peak of Fuji 
From between Kai and wave-washed Suruga. 

The clouds of heaven dare not cross it. 

Nor the birds of the air soar above it. 

The snows quench the burning fires. 

The fires consume the falling snow. 

It baffles the tongue, it cannot be named. 

It is a god mysterious . 1 

And there, sure enough, was one of the most famous volcanoes in 
the world, and perhaps the most beautiful, Fuji.* 

That delightful and fascinating poet Bashd, who came here to see 
Fuji on a winter’s day towards the end of the seventeenth century, 
found the view obscured by cloud. In the absence of cars and asphalt 
roads, coming up here, whether on foot or on horseback, must have 
been an arduous enterprise, and he must have been grievously disap- 
pointed. But he wrote: 

Kiri-shigun A day when Fuji is unseen 

Fuji wo mrau hi 20 Veiled in misty winter shower— 

OmosUroki . That day, too, is a joy. 

• UmyOM, m, y» (English translation ; Nippon Caku)utsu S hlnklk af-Tokyo, mi). 

* Often called Fujiyama (ymw means mountain). The Jspancar, however, generally call it 
Fujt-ean, reading the Ideogram for ymm in the Chinese fashion. (5m Photograph l) 



IIO MEETING WITH JAFAN 

Apart from the fact that then enter into play hen ancient and 
deep propensities of the Buddhist-nurtured oriental mind, which rates 
the suggestion of beauty higher than its possession by the senses; that 
then is a subtle play between appearance and non-appearance, between 
intangible realities and tangible illusions, how the poet's words hit the 
mark even if taken in the objective, western sensei Fuji is in fact one of 
those focal points of nature where things become endowed with per- 
sonalities; its beauties are inexhaustible; it has its own beauty from every 
angle, at every time of day, in every light, even on a grey day, when it is 
hidden by rain. But today was a calm, serene, summer day, and the 
mountain rose from the haze that covers the endless plain like a being 
suspended in the sky, acquiring a deeper blue as its sides converged 
towards the summit. 

In japan there is always a miraculous quality about a fine summer 
day. The effect of the monsoons is that the clouds arrive laden with 
humidity from the huge pastures of the Pacific, and end by wheeling, 
merging with each other, stopping, and continually depositing their 
moisture over the Japanese archipelago. A fine summer day therefore 
always has about it a quality of magic, precarious equilibrium; it is like 
an old wine with a deposit at the bottom which the slightest movement 
will disturb, clouding the whole. It was one of those days today; before 
midday dark patches were to be seen on the horizon round which 
a ceiling of cloud would inevitably form later. 

Certainly there are many other viewpoints from which the great 
mountain seems taller, more impressive, even more elegant, than from 
here. I think of winter evenings on the north side of the volcano, on the 
banks of the five lakes, when its summit reflected the last crimson light 
of the shy January sun and looked glassy and remote, like a mysterious 
and shining treasure buried in ice; or of spring dap in the country at its 
foot, surrounded by cherry blossom, with the white summit glittering 
above; or summer dap by the sea, with the waves of the Pacific breaking 
wearily on the sands of Miho-no-Matsubara after their long journey. 
Rows of twisted old pines followed the gentle curves of the coast; all 
the lines converged to a point on the horizon where other lines in 
another dimension took up the rhphm that led to the top of Fuji. 
Meanwhile every wave that broke created a momentary mirror on the 
beach in which Fuji appeared reflected upside down like a mirage. 



THE EASTERN SBAVAT m 

So much for the physical Fuji, the mountain in its biological, 
mineral, atmospheric beauty, whkh would enchant even a Martian 
who had the good fortune to land in this part of the world. There is also 
another Fuji, the Fuji that lives in the hearts and minds, the history, of 
the Japanese. Whenever a Japanese looks at the mountain the two con- 
verge, producing an emotion the depth of which we spectators from 
a distant land can scarcely hope to understand. Italy, for instance, has 
nothing to compare with Fuji, that is to say, a meeting-place of heaven 
and earth, a place of supreme physical beauty which is at the same time 
a reminder of the invisible powers and of the nation’s most ancient 
roots; Olympus may have had something of the same quality for the 
Greeks. 

It is not difficult to imagine the sense of awe that must have filled 
the minds of the remote ancestors of the Japanese when they reached 
these shores and fust set eyes on Fuji, then an active volcano. Surely 
from the first it must have seemed to them a divine thing, a god or the 
seat of a god. Eastern thought, so different from that of the west, dislikes 
subtle distinctions that kill the life and aura of sacred things. Sometimes 
the mountain is a god (kami), sometimes the seat of a god, or rather 
goddess, Konohana-Sakuya-Hime, the daughter of the god of moun- 
tains, to whom many shrines are dedicated, not only on Fuji, but 
elsewhere in Japan as well. 

When the Japanese started populating the area round Fuji, probably 
about the beginning of our era, they found there the ancestors of the 
Ainu. The two peoples lived for centuries in a more or less permanent 
state of war, which can be said to be ending only now with the total 
extinction of the strange and mysterious aborigines of white race. 
Gradually the Japanese pushed the rnishi or ebisu, as the Ainu were then 
called, northwards. These people, who for some obscure reason never 
succeeded in raising themselves above the most primitive level of civili- 
zation, left behind them traces of two kinds: pottery of the jdnm-dtln 
(cord pattern) type, which is to be found everywhere in the south of 
the Japanese archipelago, and many place-names. 

Just as the Celts in the course of centuries were pushed back to the 
western extremities and outlying islands of Europe, leaving behind them 
only certain place-names, such as London, Milan, Belgrade, so in the 
Japanese archipelago the former realm of the Ainu is testified to by a 



m 


MEETING WITH JAVAN 


luge n um ber of place-names which have no meaning in Japanese, but 
a very definite meaning, and one often in perfect harmony with the 
nature of the site, in the aboriginal language. The name Fuji is part of 
this heritage. In Japanese it is written in various ways; sometimes with 
two characters standing for ‘not-two’, i.e., ‘no other like it 1 , ‘unparal- 
leled’, or ‘not death’, i.e.. ‘immortal’. Normally, however, two characters 
are used meaning ‘treasure’ and ‘samurai’, but this is a case of what 
the Japanese call ateji, 'subsequently ascribed’ ideograms, phonetical- 
etymological interpretations a posteriori (prata quia sunt parata). In Ainu 
Huchi, or Fuchi, is the name of the goddess of fire and of the hearth, an 
appropriate name for a volcano. Chamberlain points out that from the 
phonetic point of view it would be more logical to 
think of the Ainu word push, meaning 'to rise violently’, 
referring, not to the mountain, but to the river Fujisawa, 
a swift and dangerous stream which rises from the' 
volcano, cuts across the Tokaido, and in ancient times 
constituted a formidable obstacle to travellers. The 



Warrior, 

aamurai 


Ainu in fact used to give names to rivers rather than 
^ ^ to mountains, and the transformation from push to 
\ ^ J Fuzi, as Fuji seems to have been pronounced in ancient 
times in Japanese, would agree better with the phonetic 
mutations usual between the two languages. The 
question is not yet settled, but most scholars at any rate agree that the 
name Fuji is of Ainu origin. 

The Japanese have not ceased to be fascinated by the mountain since 
their first encounter with it in the distant past. It runs like a golden 
thread through their literature and art, and through the ordinary life 
of the people. It is easy to compile anthologies of prose and verse devoted 
to Fuji, and it has often been done, from the eighth-century Manyoshu 
('Collection of the Ten Thousand Leaves’) to collections of modern 
times, ranging from the murmurs of courtly aesthetes to outpourings 
of the peasant mind. Similarly, in the field of art the gamut includes 
the delicate visions of Kano Tsunenobu and Maruyama Okyo (eighteenth 
century), the prints of Hokusai (1760-1*49). with his Fuji Hyattei ('A 


Hundred Views of Fuji'), those of Hiroshige, with Jps thirty-six views of 
the mountain, and the work of the photographers of the present day. 
Fuji is one of the twenty national parks; the park includes the 



THE EASTERN SEAWAY Q 

Hakone mountains, with their lakes, hot springs, woods, and waterfalls. 
The number of these parks, which will certainly increase in the future, 
is a testimonial to the Japanese love of nature. In summer more than 
100,000 people climb Fuji. Between July t and August ji its slopes look 
from the air like those of a huge ant-heap, with two lines of little black 
dots, one winding slowly upwards and the other winding swiftly and 
steeply downward, because you come down at speed on the sandy 
surface. I should really have said white dots, because most of the climbers 
wear white, the traditional pilgrim’s colour. 

At the end of the long climb the traveller finds: (a) if there is no 
cloud, a marvellous view from the Japanese Alps to the Pacific; (b) a 
small shrine dedicated to the kami ; (c) an important meteorological 
station ; (d) two cold-water springs, that of Shining Gold (Kmmet-sw) and 
of Shining Silver (Ginmei-sui); (e) a small post office from which post- 
cards may be sent K f)zn enormous number of discarded straw sandals 
and wooden boxes Cwhich contained bento, refreshments) lying about 
everywhere, and other, less innocent, traces of the passage of this vast 
flood of humanity. 

The crater of the volcano is not very spectacular; unlike Etna, for 
example, it does not pour forth smoke and acrid vapours, it does not 
glow or flash at night, no deep rumblings or explosions are to be heard, 
and the rocks are not encrusted with strange minerals of alchemistic 
colours. It is, however, a solemn, academic kind of inferno, a deep, 
cold, bare, and inhospitable pit with straight sides of dark rock. 

Here and there around the crater are heaps of small stones de- 
posited by pilgrims which have accumulated over the centuries. Accord- 
ing to an ancient myth, the souls of dead children have the grievous 
task of filling up with stones the saino kawara, the Buddhist Styx. Pilgrims 
therefore have a thought for them, and add their stones to the pile. 

Mishina: Local Colour and Local Horror 

Before midday we reached the Hakone pass, 'the gate of Kwanto', the 
point of entry for the traveller coming from Kyoto, of exit for the 
traveller going east, as we were. This is a famous place in Japanese 
history. As all travellers along the Tokaido necessarily used the pan, 
a barrier was inevitably erected and a toll exacted from them. For a long 



114 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

time the right to levy it belonged to one of the big temples of Kamakura, 
the Engaku-ji. After the unification of Japan in 1600 the Hakone barrier 
became an integral part of the system set up by the Tokugawa shoguns 
to protect themselves against possible revolts. Custody of the Hakone 
barrier was entrusted to the Okubo family, the lords of Odawara, the 
little town where we left the Tokaido the other day to make for Atami. 

The chief of the many tasks entrusted to these faithful vassals of the 
Tokugawa was expressed in the phrase ‘de-omta, irideppo' (watch for women 
leaving and muskets entering). The Tokugawa had devised a cunning 
scheme called sankin kBtai for keeping the 262 feudal lords in check. For 
a year, or part of a year, the lord himself had to live at Yedo, the present 
Tokyo, and when he was not there his family had to be. His loyalty was 
thus guaranteed by the presence of hostages in this gilded cage. It was 
assumed that a baron with rebellion in mind would first of all try to get 
his womenfolk out and then try to get in muskets with which to arm 
his followers. The examination of caravans at Hakone was therefore 
extremely strict 

We were now descending from what once was Sagami to what once 
was Suruga. It should be recalled that in the enthusiasm for change after 
1868 the whole face of Japan was altered, including even geographical 
names. The hmi (territories) of the feudal age were transformed into ken 
(prefectures), now reduced in number to forty-six . 1 This had an unex- 
pected literary consequence; the whole country is covered with a net- 
work of obsolete names which survive beneath the surface of contem- 
porary names and are capable of being used with powerful evocative 
effect. There are examples of this in Italy— Trinacria, Etruria, Esperia, 
etc., but in Japan there is a whole geography of them. We left the 
Hakone uge behind, and drove happily downhill. The ideogram for toge 
(pass) is incidentally one of the most picturesque; it is ‘mountain-up- 
down’; also it is one of the few of native origin, not taken over from the 
Chinese. 

The road, which was asphalt up to the pass, was now concrete. For 
a time all went well, but then troubles began. An old concrete road 
neglected becomes a formidable obstacle; the blocks break, bend, flake, 
and between one and the next chasms, cavities, steps, appear, which no 

1 Some administrative units have special names: Tokyo Is a is (metrop o litan area), Kyoto and 
Osaka are > (urban prefectures), Hokkaido Is a dp (In dill case ‘territory’). 



THE EASTERN SEA VAT 


ns 


rain wean away. Every irregularity of surface retains its sharp edges for 
years; a car bounces over them in an alarming manner. We often had to 
slow down to walking pace, and even then were badly shaken up. 

After an hour of this we reached Mishima, ‘the Three Islands’; 


perhaps ‘islands' here stand for 'hills’. The town stands at the foot of 


three steep hills which rise from the 
plain like the keels of three upturned 
boats. It occurs to me that the town of 
Fukushima in north Japan, ‘the isle of 
felicity’, lies at the foot of a rocky height 
that rises like an island in the middle of 
a valley. 

Nowadays the traffic rushes through 
Mishmia, raising clouds of dust; it is a 



r *r. P»* 


place like any other. In the old days. 


before the building of the railway tunnel through the Hakone moun- 


tains, travellers ate, drank, rested, and slept here before or after the 
long climb over the pass. The easy women of Mishima must have been 
famous; an old muleteers’ song said: 


Smoke pours from the top of Fuji; 

Up here nobody knows why 

But down there the girls of Mishima, burning with love, 
Know why. . . . 


In those days, and up till 1707, the year of its last eruption, there 
must have been a constant plume of smoke over Fuji. 

Yaji and Kita, the two heroes of the Hiukurige, stopped for the night 
at Mishima, ‘where the girls at the inns on both sides of the road began 
their usual chorus of “Walk in ! Walk in !” '* 


‘ “Don’t catch hold of me,’’ said Yagi to one of the girls who 
caught hold of his sleeve. “Let go and I’ll stop here." 

“Well, there then,” said the girl, letting go. 

“Wouldn’t you like to catch me!” said Yaji. 

But in eluding the girl he bumped into a blind shampooer. 

1 ImM&ulnu, Mvjft, English translation, Tokyo, ns,p.v. 



nt MEETING WITH JAFAN 

“Oh, oht” cried the blind man. “Can't you see I’m Wind, you 
fooll . . 

“Have some spirit,” called- another man. “Here's the stuff 
that'll make your eyes go round in your head.” 

“Now we've got away from there, let's stop here,” said Kita. 

“Please come in,” said the landlady. “San, San, guests have 
come.” 

“Welcome, gentlemen," said the landlord. “How many may 
there be in your company 1” 

“Six, counting our shadows,” said Yaji.' 

And so it goes on for pages and pages. 

When we reached Mishima it was late, and we were hungry. We 
stopped, and asked for cart raisu (curried rice) at one of those monstrous 
local taverns in which all the styles of history seem to have been dis- 
tilled into a final residue of hideousness. Sensitive and discriminating 
as the Japanese are when they move within the orbit of their own 
civilization, they become barbarians when they renounce their past and 
mimic foreign ways; that is particularly the case in the first period, 
before they have digested them. Not that the Japanese are in any way 
exceptional in this; it is a universal rule. Renouncing a civilization means 
renouncing civilization. It may perhaps be possible for an individual, by 
assiduous study and humble use of his intelligence, to penetrate into 
a world alien to his own and to take part in two or more civilizations, 
but on a social scale integration takes place extremely slowly. Only after 
several generations does a new inner harmony arise, with its own 
equilibrium, its own aesthetics, its own style. 

All this would happen with us too, but for the fret that we are in 
a special situation; the western happens for the time being to be the 
dominant civilization in the world; wherever we go, we take with us 
customs, things, ideas, which others take over from us. With us an 
occasional individual, like Gauguin, seeks escape into another cultural 
environment, but there are no groups of any consequence who find 
themselves in such a special situation. Nevertheless I have noticed many 
times that westerners who adopt Japanese living habits do things just 
as barbarous as the Japanese do the other way about. Only too often you 
enter a western house in Japan and find kimonos worn with shoes. 



THE EASTERN SeXvaT n 7 

Japanese rice dishes eaten with spoon and fork instead of with chop- 
sticks, tttasri on which people walk as if they were a floor, beds with 
futon instead of mattresses; in other words dissociated elements of one 
civilization mixed at random with those of another. 

As we ate our cart raisu on crude white plates (while on a shelf 
I noticed some domburi, dark plates decorated with marvellously assured 
Japanese country taste in simple designs and colours), I looked about 
me. What barbaric squalor ! In the first place, the barecohcrete floor was 
covered with congealed mud. When the Japanese abandon Uttami, the 
straw mats on which they walk with bare feet, they are left with a 
psychological void. The floor, not being tatami, is merely an extension 
of the street; the street brought into the house. 

Two unprepossessing girls, both oozing sex, dragged their wooden 
sand.'N (geta) about noisily and gracelessly. As soon as we entered, the 
fatter of the two, wno wore trousers of a revolting green colour and 
a violet blouse, said to the other: They are foreigners, let us put on that 
record,’ and waddled over into a comer where there was a gramophone. 
Once upon a time Mary Ford had sung ‘Johnnie is the Boy for Me’, but 
a lot of things must have happened to poor Johnnie since then. The 
record was covered with scratches, dust, grease, and a raucous loud- 
speaker started producing a bedlam of sound that entered our ears like 
ground glass. 

The two girls sat down and looked at us. Every now and then the 
fat one smiled, displaying a mouthful of gold teeth. Her colleague, who 
also wore trousers and blouse, had on an apron which might once have 
been white, but now resembled that of a particularly bloodthirsty 
surgeon who had been carrying out a large number of particularly 
violent operations. The fact that she was eating a piece of melon reas- 
sured me, however; the red stains might have been of vegetable origin. 
On the wall were price-lists of various drinks ( uiski, remonsoda) and pic- 
tures tom from magazines— some by no means ugly nudes (no doubt 
the proprietor’s intention was to reflect a certain western refinement) 
and landscapes (New England!). 

The fat girl came over to serve us, smiling with all her gold teeth. 
We ordered a bifu-batsu, a steak. 

‘Where are you going!’ the girl said when she came back with the 
order. Kyoto, we told her. 



llg MEETING WITH JAFAN 

She told us that Kyoto was her birthplace, and she had lived there 
as a little girl. What a lovely place 1 Then her hither had taken a job in 
a Yokohama factory, and the war had come, and their house had been 
destroyed in one of the first raids, before the evacuation of civilians had 
begun, and only her brother and she had survived. Shikatagcmai (it 
couldn't be helped). Now her brother was studying at the university. . . . 

She said no more, but I realized that she must be keeping him. 
Sisters who keep their brothers at the university by the hardest and 
most menial work, or by selling their own bodies, are a classic theme in 
Japanese life. 

'She was born at Kyoto too,’ the woman went on, referring to her 
companion, whose misfortunes she set about describing. The other girl 
stood for a while listening with bent head, her black hair falling un- 
tidily over her shoulders. Suddenly she raised her head, her eyes flashed, 
and she shouted: ‘Yoshina-yo!' (Stop!) The fat girl went on, laughing: 
‘Yes, you were left pregnant by a Negro. . . .' At that the thin girl flung 
herself at her, seized her by the hair, shouting: ‘Yoshina-yo! yoshina-yo!' 
(Stop! stop!) We were just going to separate them when a door opened 
and a thick-set, middle-aged man, dressed more or less like a chef, 
appeared. He said nothing, but looked at the girls angrily. Terrified, 
they slunk back to their seats, like dogs fearing the whip. 


Sip of Jewel Dew 

We left Mishima much shaken by this incident, and drove on in silence. 
Then the beauty of the country distracted us. 

Our progress was slow, for we had to pass through many villages 
strung out along the road, examples of the ribbon development which 
the Germans call Strassenddrfer. We passed through Shimizu and came to 
Shizuoka, a provincial capital with nearly 230,000 inhabitants, hideous 
as nearly all Japanese towns are hideous, but rich in memories of 
Iyeyasu, the first of the Tokugawa shoguns. Iyeyasu, with Oda Nobunaga 
and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, is considered one of the three founders of 
modern Japan; he preferred Shizuoka to all his other residences, and 
died there in 1616. Shizuoka (then called Sumpu) was famous for the big 
castle called ‘the floating island’, but nothing of it remains but the moats 
and some of the walls. 



THE EASTERN SEAWAY 


One reason why Shizuoka is so ugly is that it was almost completely 
destroyed by fire in X939 and by air-raids in 1945* and was rebuilt in the 
most revolting commercial hybrid style. However, the country all 
round is among the most beautiful in Japan. In general it is true that, 
while the overall impression created by a Japanese town is a settlement 
of huts, a fair-ground, a temporary encampment, the impression given 
by the country is one of beauty, civilization, care. 

The geological structure of the archipelago plays its part in all this. 
The islands, though composed of ancient rock, are of recent (tertiary) 
emergence and rise sharply, suddenly, and steeply; rounded hills are 
rare. The constant theme of the Japanese landscape is steep mountains 
enclosing narrow, winding valleys or small, irregular plains. It is a land 
of recesses and corners, of circumscribed but ever-changing views; a 
wor! J of enchanting nooks and crannies, with surprises at every turn. 

The work oi man has accentuated the mountain-valley contrast. 
For centuries past every inch of cultivable land has been levelled, 
divided up, irrigated, often terraced, to grow rice, on which the whole 
economic and social life of the Japanese people is based. Every valley is 
an intensely cultivated garden, and in the midst of these gardens men 
make their homes, generally in villages. The houses vary from region 
to region, but they are nearly always beautiful, with big, thatched roofs 
that keep them warm in winter and cool in summer (Photograph 17). 
Near the houses there are nearly always groups of tall trees, sugi, rather 
like cypresses, but of a more gentle green and less solemn and funereal. 
Dotted about here and there are small shrines, each with its own little 
wood, or big Buddhist temples, each with a big roof gently curving like 
a petrified, silvery wave. 

The mountains, on the other hand, really are mountains, always. 
At the edge of the plain and the rice-fields the forest begins, and climbs 
either all the way to the summit or up to the rocks. It is rare to see 
cultivated fields on the slopes, just as it is rare to see a house on the 
mountain-side; you never find houses on hill-tops, the favourite spots 
for building castles, villages, and inhabited places throughout the 
Mediterranean world. 

Around Shizuoka the country is particularly well cared for. We 
were in a rich plain bounded by mountains to the west and the ocean 
to the south, hence sunny and well protected. The houses are scattered 




■J 


Japanese rural bouses 

(Drawing by Mikfflo Yonc) 





THE BASTE&N SEAVAT m 

about amongthe rice-fields, and each is in the midst of a small garden 
surrounded by a high green hedge, trimmed and squared off with the 
care that English gardeners give to their box-hedges. In Japan these 
hedges have a poetical name, thegaki ('living walls' or ‘living curtains'). 
Occasionally you see them elsewhere in Japan, but as a typical feature 
of the landscape I recall them only here near Shizuoka, and at Izumo 
in the province of Shimane (Photograph 16); both these areas include 
some of the loveliest countryside in Japan. 

As soon as we left the plain for the hills all the cultivable land was 
occupied by tea gardens. The plants grew in dotted lines up and down 
the valleys and hillsides. This is, in fact, one of the few examples of 
hillside cultivation in Japan. 

We succumbed to the temptation to stop and call on a family of 
tea-pHnters. In these parts the surface of the Tokaido was really abomin- 
able; we had left the asphalt far behind, and the macadam was full of 
potholes. As it had not rained for several days, every vehicle raised an 
enormous cloud of dust. Our car was white with it, and the fields beside 
the road were covered in it. 

The house was well built; on two sides of it were agricultural 
implements and baskets. On the engawa, the veranda about four feet 
above ground-level which runs along the whole frontage of a Japanese 
house, a wrinkled little old woman was squatting, cleaning rice. 

As soon as she heard us speak Japanese the slight alarm with which 
she watched us get out of the car vanished. She smiled, which made her 
face more wrinkled than ever, and turned her eyes into two almost 
invisible slits. Then she rose and invited us to enter, apologizing at 
having to receive honourable guests in such a poor place. She fetched 
two zabuton, i.e., the flat, square cushions on which you sit; guests must 
always be offered these. Then she again vanished into the house, to 
reappear a few moments later with the tea; it was from their own fields, 
she explained, and she apologized for its poor quality, but the whole 
crop had recently been sent to market, and this was all that was left. 

We talked to the old lady for a long time; she asked us where we 
were going, why we were travelling, and a whole heap of other ques- 
tions, and we asked her about the cultivation of the tea that was her 
wealth and that of her family. 

In a sense tea plays a part in Japanese life similar to that of wine in 



m 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

the west Saki might seem a more natural comparison, but it has not the 
same associations. In classical antiquity wine was associated with the 
mysteries of Dionysus and Bacchus; Christianity changed the theme, 
introducing it into the sacraments. Tea has ancient links with Buddhism, 
though it has not the antiquity of wine, even in China. 

The Tsi Min Yao Shu, an agricultural treatise dating from the fifth 
century a.d., does not mention tea, nor does Marco Polo, but that is 
probably because its use originated in south China and may not have 
reached the territory of Kublai Khan. In Japan tea has been known for 
more than a thousand years. For several centuries it made little head- 
way; it was drunk only at court and by a restricted circle of nobles and 
high Buddhist dignitaries. In the thirteenth century a big impulse was 
given to tea-drinking by the Abbot Myoe, of the monastery of Togano, 
between Nara and Kyoto, who established the Uji tea plantations which 
are still the headquarters of Japanese tea production. Every year a 
service is held in a local temple and tea is offered to the spirit of the 
Abbot Myoe. Tea keeps the mind fresh but does not intoxicate,’ Suzuki 
observes. ‘It has qualities naturally to be appreciated by scholars and 
monks .’ 1 Tea kept the mind wakeful and alert for midnight devotion 
and was therefore drunk as an accompaniment to Buddhist services.’* 

Two boys of seven or eight came back from school and looked at us 
in mute astonishment; the old woman sent them to fetch their father, 
who, she explained, knew all about tea. The family had come originally 
from Uji, where tea was really appreciated; here the interest was only 
commercial. The sound of gcta behind us announced the arrival of her 
son, who appeared in shorts, bare-chested and sunburnt, with a lock of 
grey hair over one eye. His appearance was prepossessing. He bowed 
low to us, and we responded in accordance with the requirements of 
etiquette. 

When all these had been fulfilled we resumed our seats. He told us 
that he had spent four years in China, that he had returned home after 
the war, that his son was studying medicine at the University of Osaka. 
He said he would like to learn English, but there was no one to teach 
him in this part of the world. We suggested gramophone records; he 
seemed sufficiently well off to be able to afford the outlay. His affability 

‘D.T. Susub, Zm BtUUmmitu hjbant mjt/mm • OrikR, Kyoto, mi. 

• SB Qubim tuot.Jtfmm Mto, London, im. 



THE EASTERN SEAWAY m 

and his freedom from the usual Japanese inhibitions betrayed the fret 
that he had spent a considerable time abroad and had lived among 
people of different nationalities. He was passionate about tea, about 
which he was exceedingly well informed ; seeing that we were interested, 
he went on talking about it Every now and then he vanished into the 
kitchen and reappeared with a book or a trade paper, and he brought us 
newly gathered leaves to illustrate the methods of working. 

Three different products can be obtained from the leaves of the 
same plant by using different methods. Two of these are rarely seen in 
Europe. The first is the so-called usu-cha ('subtle tea’), a fine powder 
extracted by immersing the youngest leaves in hot water, which yields 
a strange, pea-green brew; it has a strong, stimulating effect, and is 
drunk at the tea ceremony, or on occasions on which it is desired to 
celeb~*te in a particularly solemn manner. The second is common 
green tea obtained by steaming the leaves and then drying them in 
warmth. In Japan this kind of tea is drunk practically like water; a 
Japanese will drink dozens of cups of it daily, on every conceivable 
occasion, on entering an office, paying a visit, at home, even in shops at 
which he is a regular customer. The third type is the ordinary tea known 
in Europe, called ko-cha (red tea); unlike the other two types, the leaves 
are made to ferment as soon as they are gathered, which gives them 
a special colour and aroma. 

Our host explained that at Uji things were quite different from 
what they were here. His grandfather’s brothers had remained at llji, 
and one of his ancestors had been employed in the special court office 
that supervised all the ceremonies for the preparation of tea for the 
imperial household. How things had changed! Now he would offer 
us a special gyokuro ('jewel dew') of the previous year, a thing of no 
account, but perhaps we might enjoy it. . . . 

An hour later we were still sitting on the engawa, surrounded by 
about twenty little cups of various shapes and sizes, while our host with 
undiminished enthusiasm made us taste more and more varieties of 
tea, analysing with a connoisseur’s discrimination their resemblances 
and differences, the taste and aroma that remained on the palate and in 
the nostrils. He went through the whole gamut of the sen-cha , and then 
of the more humble bcm-cha, and ho did not omit the crude country 
teas, the Ub*U t kamairi, and htroguchi, which ended by seeming at least as 



124 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

interesting in this enthusiastic atmosphere, and in any case constituted 
a base from which it was possible to advance to the sublimity of the 
’jewel dew*. 

The sun was setting when we at last resumed our journey towards 
Kyoto. Never have I met such discriminating enthusiasm as had been 
displayed by our host, except for wine in France. The road was bad, 
stony, dusty, and full of potholes. We met lorries driven in the most 
outrageous manner. In Japan, as in England and Sweden, you drive on 
the left, but Japanese lorry-drivers drive on the side that suits them; 
they know that in an accident the other party will come off worse. This 
discloses an unpleasant side of the Japanese character, fully conveyed 
by the Japanese word ibaru, which means throwing your weight about. 

The fundamental virtue taught by the ethics of the feudal age was 
loyalty; the Japanese have so consistently shown themselves capable of 
heroism in observing it as to make it seem almost normal. But— apart ' 
from what might be derived from Buddhism and Confucianism— there 
were few precepts that taught pity for the weak, protection for the 
defenceless. The samurai was always ready to disembowel himself 
because of a slight done to his lord, but claimed the right to test the 
sharpness of his sword on the first beggar he met in the street. Valignani, 
an Italian Jesuit, wrote in the sixteenth century: 

‘They are ready to kill those subject to them on the slightest 
of pretexts, and think no more of cutting a man in half than of 
doing so to a dog; many of them, chancing to meet some unfortu- 
nate, will cut him in half solely to test the edge of their katana .’ 1 

Many centuries are needed to change deep-seated national charac- 
teristics. In Japan today the strong still exploit the weak if there is no 
intervention from above to stop them ; from below nobody lifts a finger, 
but everybody bows and accepts; it is sufficient for the strong to raise 
his voice. A Japanese lorry-driver in charge of a huge vehicle loaded 
with badly secured sacks, bearing down on you like an avalanche on 
the wrong side of the road to avoid the potholes, is in reality nothing 
but a poor devil who for a brief hour feels himself to be a dmmyo, a prince; 
his behaviour is easy to explain, but hard to forgive. 

* f. TACqD-V»WTU»l. II CmtUm Ci fyw ui msmit i Uialmri U Stoit XVI, Rom, wv, p. n. 



Pmture at Yota 

We had to make a ditour — we hoped that perhaps they were re- 
pairing a stretch of the Tokaido— with the result that we found our- 
selves at Yaizu, a big fishing village on Suruga bay. As we entered it we 
had a puncture, and stopped to have it repaired. We approached some 
people standing in the middle of the road. A youth answered our ques- 
tions very frostily. ‘Down there, can’t you seel’ he said. There, sure 
enough, was the garage. The proprietor received us coldly too. After 
a little he said : 'Ameriha-jin kai' (Are you American 1) 'It, Itari-jindm' (No, we 
are Italian), we answered. Normally the reactions to this last piece of 
information are varied and curious. A Tokyo taxi-driver, for instance, 
stopped, got out, and nearly embraced us, exclaiming: ‘Musserm, Chymo, 
sangokudomti’ (Mussolini, Ciano, triple alliance!), not realizing that a lot 
of water had flowcu under the bridges since his youth in 19)9. Others 
would say they did not like us, because it was our fault that they had 
lost the war, for we had unscrupulously deceived them, pretending to 
be strong when we were weak, etc. Others had listened to Communist 
propaganda, and believed Italy to be a predominantly Communist 
country, and others again sympathized with us, on the ground that we 
too had foreign masters in the house. There were also those who con- 
gratulated us on having shaken off the past, carried out a rapid recon- 
struction, and become a pillar of democracy; and those who looked at 
us with a blank and sorrowful air, as if to say: What! Another country 
of which nobody has ever heard! The fact is that the Japanese, both 
educated and otherwise, are normally pretty well informed about 
America and Russia, Britain and France, but know exceedingly little 
about Italy. 

This time the information that we were Italian left the situation 
unchanged. The garage proprietor, a big, strong man who had just 
emerged flushed from the bath, muttered an ‘Ah so ha’ (Oh, yes!) A few 
minutes later a small boy arrived with a bundle of newspapers and flung 
one into the garage. The man stopped his work to pick it up, avidly 
read a few lines, and flung it away. 'Naha 1 uha naoranai, dame da,' he said. 
(There’s no hope, he won’t get better, it’s a bad business !) 

Then we understood. We had stqpped at the village from which a few 
months earlier the fishing-boat Lac hy Dragon had left for the southern 

121 



126 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

seas. On March i, 1954. a hydrogen bomb was exploded at the Bikini 
atoll, and a few hours later a shower of fine white dust fell on the Lucky 
Dragon, which was eighty miles away and well outside the danger area 
announced by the American authorites. No one on board realized that 
this was radioactive fall-out. Soon the whole crew fell ill, and the master 
of the Lucky Dragon decided to return to Yaizu. The sick were sent to 
hospital in Tokyo, where their condition deteriorated. The radioactive 
dust had got into their hair and clothing, it had lain about the ship and 
continued to act on their ill-protected organs, they had breathed it in 
and eaten food contaminated by it. 

The gravest case was that of Kuboyama, the wireless operator, and it 
was with his fate that the village of Yaizu was now concerned. He had 
recently got worse, and it seemed that only a miracle could save him; 
it was the latest medical bulletin about him that the garage proprietor 
read in the newspaper. He finished mending the puncture, and advised 
us to take the tyre and go on our way; there were hot-headed people in 
these parts, and you never knew. ... No doubt he was right; it would 
have been stupid to irritate these people by our presence. In moments 
of anger subtle distinctions between westerners of different types might 
be apt to disappear, for we were all gai-jin (‘people from outside’, 
foreigners). 

A few months later the unfortunate Kuboyama died. 

Indestructible Fortress 

It was late, and we were tired. The road was dusty, bumpy, and full of 
potholes, there were innumerable lorries which never dimmed their 
lights, the villages were long and narrow. We drove on like automata. 
We came to Iwata, Hamamatsu (which in daylight is so beautiful with 
its lagoons and pines), Toyohashi, Okazaki, and at last Nagoya. It was 
very late. It is always best to avoid western-style hotels; they are dear 
and, with one or two exceptions in Tokyo and Kyoto, pretentious and 
bad. It is always possible to find a Japanese hotel which is clean and 
pleasant. A bent old man advised us to go to the Kamome(the ’Seagull’), 
which did not disappoint us. 

Nagoya is one of the five biggest towns in Japan; it has more than 
a million inhabitants. It was here that the Tokugawa established their 



THE EASTEEN SEAWAY X27 

power at the end of the sixteenth century; and until 1945, when it was 
destroyed in the air-raids, it was the site of one of the biggest and tallest 
castles in Japan, built by order of Tokugawa lyeyasu in 1610. The huge 
stones used are said to have been brought directly from the quarry to 
the place where they were to be used without ever touching the ground ; 
this, according to a belief of the time, guaranteed the indestructibility 
of the fortress. Evidently the guarantee applied only to terrestrial 
attacks; attacks from air were not foreseen by the seers of those distant 
days. 

But of Nagoya we shall speak later. It was here that we spent two 
years of internment during the war. 



Wooden Pavilions in the 
Sacred Wood 


Precision Instrument-Making and Mythology 

W hile I was having breakfast this morning, wearing iyukata through 
which the cool air penetrated pleasingly, squatting on the tatami 
in front of a lacquered wooden tray full of little cups and plates with 
rice, fish, seaweed, soya, eggs, and fruit, the door opened and a distin- 
guished-looking gentleman of about thirty entered and introduced 
himself, with much bowing and polite words of greeting. He was 
dressed in European style, and had two cameras slung over his shoulder. 

Mr. Tsurugi had heard that I was interested in photography, in 
which he was greatly interested himself, that was the reason for his visit; 
in fact he had a small workshop in which he made cameras. 

I noticed that he had with him a camera of a most interesting kind, 
the kind of which I had always dreamt. It had a routing turret fitted 
with three lenses, one wide-angle, one ordinary, and one long-distance; 
you merely routed the turret to select the lens required. But that was 
not all; the camera had two rollers, one for black-and-white and the 
other for colour film. A true portent, the camera of the future! 

Mr. Tsurugi explained that it was a rather crude, home-made 
instrument, but he had taken out the necessary patents, and would soon 
start production in earnest His place was near Osaka, between Osaka 
and Kyoto, a beautiful spot 'Doto asobi-ni irasshai * (Please come there for 
rest and refreshment), he said (the word asobu is strictly untranslatable). 

I offered my guest tea. We ulked at length about cameras, lenses, 
and films. I showed him a Pandnor Berthiot which he examined with 
the greatest interest In conclusion he said that he was on a tour taking 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACEED WOOD m 

photographs for publicity purposes; and, as he was here, he proposed 
to take advantage of the opportunity of visiting the honourable gods 
before their departure. 

'Before their departure V 

‘Yes, don’t you remember! October, kami-na-suU, the month without 
gods.’ 

'Of course I had forgotten, they all go to Izumo for a month's 
family reunion !’ 

‘Yes, they go there every year. Not till November do they return 
to their places in the various shrines of Japan .’ 1 

In Prehistoric Style 

Half a* hour later— it might have been about seven o’clock— the early 
morning sunshine was flooding the street. At that hour all is fresh and 
smiling in Japan. People are up and about; the women are busy with the 
housework; the men are washing or walking about with a tenugui (small 
towel) round their neck; boys and girls are playing isht-ken, jumping on 
one leg from circle to circle chalked on the ground. In Japan everything 
closely follows the course of the sun; houses are built in such a fashion 
that it is difficult to find a dark corner when night has gone. The 
Japanese are great admirers of the dawn; their art and literature are full 
of its praises. This is a cultural phenomenon, comparable with our 
admiration of the sunset. We think we admire the sunset because it is 
beautiful; in reality we admire it because we have been taught to do so. 
In Japan, except for a few students who have steeped themselves in 
western romanticism, nobody takes any notice of sunset; in fact it is 
considered sad, and of bad augury. 

At Ise, to which we made our way, there are two places of particular 
veneration, the Geku and the Naiku, the Outer and the Inner Shrine. 
The former is dedicated to Toyouke-Omikami, the goddess of rich 

* This is An indent end very widespread belief. The well-known historian Hints Atsutane 
(177S-1S43) suggests, however, that fcom-ee-aifa is simply • corruption of Aswi-oMssH, 'month of 
divine tasting'. U., of the new rice crop, a suggestion accepted by Aston, SUm. London, ises, 
p. mj. It is often to be remarked that the more modern and better-educated the la p a n ee e are. the 
lea they know about thdr ancient traditions, which they dlsmla a uaeka and outmoded. This 
frequently remits In an Incongruous acceptance of the moat absurd old wives’ alas side by side 
with a spaceman's outlook on life. Incidentally tEe same phenomenon Is often to be found In 
thewea. 



IJO MEETING WITH JAPAN 

harvests, and the latter to Amaterasu-Omikami, the goddess shining in 
the sky, U., the sun. The two are a few miles apart, in an area of wooded 
hills and dear streams that runs glittering along channels of bright 
stones. 

After passing the first of the three gateways (torii) normally to be 
found along the approach to every Shinto shrine, we found ourselves 
in a wood of marvellous antiquity and stupendous vigour. A gently 
winding, gravelled avenue was flanked on either side by cryptomerias, 
which are similar to cypresses, but of a size no cypress ever reaches. 
There were many people, almost a crowd: mothers with children on 
their backs, leading by the hand other children, with balls, dolls, bags 
of sweets; peasants in all sorts of clothing, from pure traditional to 
impure western style, with every conceivable variation in between (as 
in Photographs nj, 126, 127); students and school children; old men with 
young mekake (‘pendants from the eyes’, i.e., mistresses), and geishas with 
wealthy patrons; serious business men from Osaka, the Japanese Man- 
chester; learned professors and distinguished civil servants, looking 
a trifle pompous and starched, as was appropriate in such a place; and 
every now and then a priest passed in his ancient robes of bright, plain 
colours. 

Where were all these people going’ Where did all these avenues 
lead! What should we find hidden in the wood? We were in the east, 
and should be prepared for the strange, the fantastic, perhaps the mon- 
strous. Would there be a terraced hill covered with sculpture, as at 
Barabuduri Or a temple in the form of a huge human face smiling 
enigmatically, as at Angkor-Thom or Bay on? Or a padoga from which 
twp vividly painted eyes look at you, as at Gyantse in Tibet; or two rows 
of impressive statues of real or fantastic animals, as at the Ming tombs? 
Or caves carved out of the rock and painted with disturbing pictures, as 
at Ajanta? Or pinnacles interwoven with marvellous and terrible visions 
of metamorphoses, couplings, strange, symbolical voluptuousness, as 
_ at Tanjore? Should we find a palace, a column, a tower, a monument? 

We found none of these things. Instead, the object of supreme 
veneration to nearly 100 million Japanese at work in the fields, at sea, 
in the air, in the mountains, in the docks at Yokohama, in the factories 
of Kawasaki or the laboratories of Osaka; in the big shops along the 
Ginza, in the universities, the mines, banks, offices, and all the other 





132 MEETING WITH JAEAN 

departments of modem industrial life, is a small, bare, and unadorned 
thatched edifice built of cypress wood in pure prehistoric style (Photo- 
graph Si). 

In this the Japanese are tremendous. Over the centuries they have 
resisted first the huge cultural pressure of China and Buddhism, and 
then that of Europe and the west, and have maintained intact their own 
primary, original form of worship, linking them with nature and the 
gods. The gods? The west laughs. But the truth is that there are a 
hundred ways of approaching the mystery of life. The supreme purpose 
of every civilization is the creation of God, and every civilization has the 
deity that it deserves. The logical west, obsessed with the problem of 
evil, has the Trinity, Jehovah, Allah; Japan, a land not of philosophers, 
but of poets and artists— artists of the brush, the word, the plough, the 
slide-rule (ships, machinery, cloth, lenses), a country of men bom with 
a rare sense of the relationship between hand and thing, between eye 
and matter— hides its happy, human, irrational gods in the leaves of the 
huge trees of a wood. 

Civilizations, beliefs, always look strange from the outside. An 
Asian once said to me: ‘Oh, yes, Italy, the country where at certain 
times of the year little girls are taken to church by their parents, dressed 
as brides, to eat God for the first time!’ The reader smiles. But nine 
times out of ten he goes equally astray in talking about phenomena 
belonging to a remote civilization. 

Sacred Gateway 

The origin of the torn, the triumphal arch built of wood or stone, or 
sometimes nowadays of concrete (as in the case of the Heian Jingu at 
Kyoto), is unknown ; there is no mention of it in the most ancient 
Japanese documents, the Kojiki (a.d. 712) and Nihon-Shoki (a.d. 720). 1 Its 
shape recalls similar gateways to be found in many parts of Asia; the 
Indian terana, the Chinese p'ai-lou, the Korean htmg-sal-mim, for instance; 
and similar structures are also to be found in Siam and elsewhere. How 
and when it reached Japan is still the subject of dispute . 1 The similarity 

> For the Kjtt an EnfUth trtmUtJon by B. H. Chamiulun, Kobe, mi; English translation of 
the NlmUl (or Nttm/I) by W. G Aston, Tokyo, tut (reprinted London, ml). 

• Sm O. Kaio* end D. Seam. Dtr Unpray do Toti, Tokyo, iml 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACAED WOOD IJJ 

of the Japanese word torii and the Indian toraaa certainly o ffe rs food for 
thought, as Chamberlain remarks. According to an imaginative Jap anese 
theory, the font was in ancient times a perch for sacred birds, the sacred, 
long-necked, flying cocks (ton, cock, hen, bird; i. to be, to stand). It is 
suggested that in the course of time this usage was forgotten and the 
torii was transformed into a gateway. Even more imaginative are attempts 
to explain it by episodes in the solar myth of Amaterasu and her quarrels 
with her brother Susanowo, ‘the impetuous male’. 

Whatever its origin, the torii has become an inseparable feature of the 
Japanese landscape . 1 In the towns it is often an immense and hideous 
structure of steel and concrete, and its proportions are calculated by 
slide-rule by well-known engineers, and in the country it may well have 
been built of tree-trunks by peasants on a holiday afternoon, but, in 
whatever form, the torii is a constant feature of every view, every valley, 
practically ever) mountain-top in the archipelago. There are about 
100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. A few dozen are big and important, but 
the great majority are small, rustic structures. Generally there are three 
torii to a shrine, sometimes there are two, but there is always at least one. 
The popular belief is that to pass under a torii is a first stage in purification. 
The three torii are also associated with cock-crow at dawn. 

‘As the cock is the announcer of the passing of night and the 
coming of day, so do the three torii prepare the heart of a pious 
worshipper for his purified appearance before the god. His passing 
under the god-gate expels the darkness from his heart just as the 
darkness of night is lifted at dawn .' 1 

Torii, like crucifixes or church towers or steeples in the Christian 
world, or chortens and pagodas in Buddhist countries, are symbols of 
a civilization. The universal presence of the torii in Japan is, I think, com- 
parable to the sound of church bells in the west. I used greatly to miss 
the sound of church bells here; Buddhist temples have a bell, it is true, 
but it is rung rarely, and with long pauses between each stroke. But then 
I realized that it was sufficient to use the eye instead of the ear, for there 
were the torii, particularly the small, bow-legged, country torii, covered 

• Sm Photographs n, M, bl 

• K. Yamacucb. Ff Tokyo, No« tfa* down fymboliam %>to. 



04 MEETING WITH JAVAN 

with moss and lichen. You catch sudden glimpses of them from the 
train, see them on promontories on the coast, at the turn of a path on 
a mountain-top. 

Offended Dragon 

We completed our visit to the Outer Shrine, that dedicated to the 
goddess of rich harvests, the guardian of agriculture, horticulture, and 
sericulture. Near it are some smaller shrines; one of them is dedicated 
to Kaza-miya, the wind god. Originally he occupied a much more 
modest position, but after 1293 he was granted the supreme honour of 
standing next to the major farm in recognition of the great service he 
rendered in raising the storm that in the bay of Hakata destroyed the 
fleet sent by Kublai Khan to invade Japan . 1 

This recalls a similar Chinese episode to be read in Lin Yutang’s life 
of the poet and philosopher Su Tung-po (1036-uoi). 1 Su Tung-po was 
a magistrate in a certain province. When summer came there was 
drought; in vain he prayed to the dragon of the Taipo mountain to 
provide rain for the parched fields. Finally, on referring to ancient 
documents, he discovered that the divine dragon of the Taipo mountain 
had been mistakenly described as count instead of duke, the rank to 
which he was entitled; he must certainly have been offended, and this 
drought was his way of showing it. Tung-po immediately addressed a 
memorial to the Emperor, appealing to him to redress the wrong that 
had been done. Then he and the chief magistrate took a ceremonial 
bath and sent a special messenger to inform the spirit of what had been 
done in the way of securing a higher rank for him.’ Soon afterwards rain 
came. Su Tung-po, full of gratitude, re-named a temple near his official 
residence the 'Pavilion of Joyful Rain’. He also composed a short inscrip- 
tion to be placed on it which is a gem in the literature of the period. 

Beyond the Cool Curtain 

We went back to the car and drove a few miles towards the Naiku, the 
Inner Shrine. We got out, crossed the river Uji by a handsome bridge, 

1 Sm the Skhm Ddjim ("Shinto Dictionary'), Tokyo, imi* VoL L, p. )». 

b Lin Yutang. Tiff Gty Gnfcs. New York, wt, p. Co. 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACEED WOOD 


OS 

passed under the first toni , and soon reached the spot where everyone 
goes down to the stream to wash his hands and rinse his mouth as 
a token of purification. 

After the second torii we came to another avenue flanked by huge 
cryptomerias. The farther we got from the road, the farther the every- 
day world, the world of noise and motors, receded, the farther back we 
seemed to be moving in time, and the more we were seized with the 
magic of the place. We passed a number of pavilions, including the 
Kagura-den, the place of the sacred dances, rounded a bend, and came 
to some crude stone steps. We were now at the edge of the clearing 
where the sacred buildings stand: the Sho-den, the principle shrine, 
where the sacred mirror is kept; the two Ho-den, or treasuries; and the 
Mike-den, where offerings are made morning and evening of rice, water, 
salt, fish, birds, vegetables, fruit, and seaweed. The architecture with 
whicu we were fare i was of the most heroic simplicity, the most abso- 
lute purity; the structural elements are unpainted wooden pillars, and 
rafters supporting thatched roofs. All the lines are straight, except for 
the slight curvature of the roofs; the surfaces are completely devoid of 
decoration and ornament; there has been no secondary treatment of 
the raw material . 1 A big silk curtain hangs across the entrance; only the 
Emperor, a few members of his family, and envoys who represent him 
on certain occasions, are allowed to pass beyond. 

In accordance with ancient custom, everyone— including an 
English-speaking student of Tokyo University who had attached him- 
self to us (‘I am in my third year, I am a student of embryology’), to say 
nothing of Mr. Tsuguri, with his epoch-making camera round his neck, 
who saw us in the distance and hurried over to join us— stood to atten- 
tion for a moment, bowed slightly, and clapped his hands twice. Beyond 
the wooden curtains (of which there were four, each with its own name: 
ita-gaki , plank curtain, ara-gaki, rustic curtain, tama-gaki, precious curtain, 
and misu-gaki, cool curtain) there were to be seen the roofs of the small 
temples in the clearing, with their cfcigi, ornamental cross-beams, which 
are so reminiscent of the South Seas. The slow and subtle building up of 
the suggestion of the prodigious and the sacred since we crossed the 

1 "Nature herself must provide noble and beautiful materials for the sacred edifice; all man 
does Is to select and handle them with extreme eye, co mbine d with a delicate rest r ain t .*— fmm 
Burnt. TmfiurnJmSmm Jqm, Paris, 199C, p. at. 



lit MEETING WITH JAPAN 

river and passed under the first torii could not possibly have had a more 
impressive climax. A monument or mausoleum would have been a dis- 
appointment; these fabulous, archaic temples were not. It was like being 
transported into remote antiquity, perhaps the evening on which man 
discovered fire or the morning on which he invented speech. Then you 
pictured the time centuries ago when the Emperor’s daughters lived 
here like vestal virgins, high priestesses of the temple, and in your mind’s 
eye you saw them in their white silk robes passing like a cool breeze at 
the head of a procession of dignitaries. 

At the conclusion of their brief moment of prayer, people turned 
and walked cheerfully away. There was not the least sign of strain or 
tension in the relations between man and the higher powers. For the 
great majority of Japanese, of course, a visit to a Shinto shrine is less 
a religious experience in our sense of the word (but of that we shall 
speak later) than a moment of poetical communion with the past, with 
the roots of the nation and its civilization. It is difficult, no, impossible, 
to find any sort of parallel in our own civilization; for that it would 
have been necessary for Christianity not to have eliminated the ancient 
pagan cults, for the latter to have survived side by side with the domi- 
nant religion; in Italy there would still have to be a Roman national 
shrine with a cult that had remained unaltered through the centuries; 
and, on top of that, both cult and place would have to stand in 
some sort of relationship with a supreme authority handed down 
through the centuries without interruption, an authority, more- 
over, that was simultaneously spiritual and temporal. It is obviously 
impossible to find such a parallel, for it belongs to a different order of 
things. 

Earth Bom of the Voluptuousness of the Gods 

At this point the reader may be feeling some curiosity about the religions 
of Japan. What is Shinto and the emperor worship of which he has 
heard so much! And what is really in the minds of the Japanese, who 
are equipped with all the apparatus of flourishing industries, company 
meetings, laboratories, political parties, when they talk of the gods? 
Let us briefly go back to the beginning. 

The original inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago were probably 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACKED WOOD UP 

similar to the Ainu* or were their direct ancestors . 1 It seems established 
that these people reached Japan from northern Asia by way of the 
natural bridge provided by Sakhalin-Hokkaido-Honshu. A curious fact 
is that in Ainu the Sea of ^Okhotsk is called vnofam-rep, which means 'sea 
left behind, ancient sea’;*in other words the sea which the Ainu left 
behind when they moved south. It is also curious that the ancient 
Japanese name for Kyushu, the big southernmost island of the archi- 
pelago, was Tsukushi; now, in Ainu chivkuskii means a 'rapid stream, 
strait, a crossing-place’, a description which exactly applies to the arm 
of the sea between Moji and Shimonoseki, where the currents are swift. 
Apart from the numerous place-names which the Ainu language can 
explain better than any other, these people left scattered throughout 
the archipelago graves and sites at which crude jomon-doki (cord-pattern) 
pottery is continually being found. Japanese archaeologists are reluctant 
to identify the makers of these objects with the ancestors of the Ainu, 
but, until a more satisfactory theory is proposed, the identification can 
at any rate provisionally be accepted. 

A totally different set of archaeological finds testifies to the advance 
from the south and west of another, more civilized, more warlike, and 
better-organized, people. From the outset these produced well-made 
pottery of the Yayoi type, so-called from the place where it was first 
discovered, and numerous objects characteristic of neolithic culture; 
this was swiftly followed by bronze, and then iron. As soon as the new- 
comers had mastered the production and use of metal, the fate of the 
aborigines was sealed. The first stage of Japanese history consists essen- 
tially of a slow and continuous advance northwards and westwards 
from the south, a perpetual state of warfare between the invaders and 
the strange, bearded aborigines whom they called either emishi or ebisu 
(barbarians).* 

Where did these colonizing invaders come from? We are confronted 
with the most varied theories. Plenty of facts are available from the 
most varied fields, from anthropology and linguistics to archaeology 

1 The Ainu are proto-whites ; a branch detached from the main trunk In extremely early timer 
and prerumably pushed eastwards by events that will probably always remain obscure. Names of 
Ainu orgln are frequent in the maritime provinces of Siberia. Sw ). Baianioa, Ah»Jfam-fi|U 
D l a lmny, Tokyo, gn. 

•Sm Photographs m, ss» a Japanese and an Ainu peanut side by ride, now at peace after mm 
yens of warfare. Sm alw Photographs se. ri. two ep ftod n In the Arim bear SHval 



1)8 MEETING WITH JAEAN 

and history (China), but nobody has yet succeeded in integrating them 
into a really satisfactory whole. However, links may be presumed with 
northern Asia, by way of Korea; with central and southern China; and 
with the South Seas, by way of the Philippines, Formosa, and Ryukyu. 

Physically it is hard to distinguish the Japanese from the southern 
Chinese, except for an occasional marked hairiness on the Japanese part 
which testifies to the Ainu element now merged in the race. This would 
seem to suggest that the immigrants came from China, though many 
of the most ancient and characteristic elements in Japanese culture link 
them with the cycle of civilizations which some call Oceanic and others 
Malayo-Polynesian— their mythology, their maritime habits, the posi- 
tion of women in the community, their attitude towards the nude and 
personal cleanliness, and finally their houses. On the other hand 
archaeology demonstrates important links with continental Asia, China, 
and Mongolia (magatam jewellery, the long, straight sword, burial of 
leaders beneath big, artificial mounds). As for the language, it raises 
more problems than it solves. Its true position in the linguistic picture 
of the Pacific and the Far East has not yet been established; but broadly 
it may be said that the grammar and syntax show certain affinities with 
the Ural-Altai group (Korean, Mongolian, Turkish, and others), while 
the vocabulary has many points of resemblance with the Malayo- 
Polynesian group. This suggests that a small nucleus of warriors, better 
organized but cruder, coming from Asia by way of Korea, amalgamated 
in the Japanese archipelago with a more numerous, more docile, and 
perhaps more developed, people who came from the south. 

I mentioned the Japanese house; apart from all the other things 
which make the Ise and Izumo shrines so interesting, there is the fact 
that they represent the purest possible survival of the Japanese archi- 
tectural tradition as it existed before the Chinese cultural invasion 
began in the sixth century a.d. Every twenty years the Ise shrine is taken 
down and meticulously reconstructed in accordance with the same 
immutable design, which is followed with the strictness of a religious 
rite. The last reconstruction took place in wm (the next will take place in 
1974). and it was the fifty-ninth ; the first of which we have documentary 
evidence was in 68 j. Before the old shrine is demolished and broken up 
into amulets and souvenirs, the sacred symbol, the yata-no-kagami mirror, 
is removed and taken to the new shrine, built of timber specially selected 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACRED WOOD I* 

from the imperial forests of Kiso, in the depths of the night, so that the 
ham shall feel as perfectly at home in their new dwelling as they did in 
the old and suffer no disturbance because of the removal. 

A striking fact about the appearance both of the Shinto shrine and 
the characteristic Japanese house is its resemblance to buildings to be 
found in the Philippines and the East Indies, particularly the Celebes and 
Sumatra. A. Soper says in the latest history of Japanese architecture: 
The likely inference is not that Japanese culture is rooted in the Indies, 
but that both island groups received a similar stimulus from a common 
centre, perhaps on the south Chinese coast / 1 In all these structures we 
find features which seem to be variations on a single oriental type. They 
are of wood ; they are on piles, which were formerly tall but in a modern 
Japanese town house are rudimentary; the roof is of straw or bark, 
generally with two long gutters, or of the irimoya type (see illustration , p. 132). 
Finally the walls dr not carry weight, but are merely partitions, just as 
they are in a modern concrete building. 

The Yamato civilization, the first phase of Japanese cultural and 
political history, fully established itself in the last centuries before the 
beginning of our era and the centuries that followed . 1 During this 
period the whole social system already revolved round the Mikado 
('Honourable Gate', a title of great honour that names him symbolically, 
from afar), as is shown by the huge imperial tombs. 

The art of this period survives, not only in the architectural monu- 
ments of Ise and Izumo, and in the Japanese house in general, but in 
terracotta carvings called haniwa, which were used for burial purposes. 
Haniwa (‘clay tubes’) were, as their name implies, extremely simple; 
their subjects are men, women, children, animals, all treated with such 
modernity of style that the critic exclaims with delight on discovering 
them. They express all a child’s marvel at the miracle of matter coming 

1 T. R. Paine and A. Soria, Tin Art md Arduieaart hpss. London, it«. p. *y 

■The word Yamato has long been used either to Indicate the primitive Japanese people or the 
areas where they lived. In the narrow sense, Yamato Is the area round Nara; there Is a Yamato pre- 
fecture at the present day. In poetry Yamato is often used for the whole of Japan. It Is to be noted 
tlm in writing the word is represented, eccentrically enough, by two characters which mean 
•great peace * aru * can be read in a variety of ways but not, except by convention, as Yamato. Japan 
(which the Japanese call Nihon or Nippon) is a Chinese word 'origin, rising, of the sun’). 

fKitu consid e r ed herself to be the centre of the world and named other countries with reference 
to herself The oldest examples of the use of JAfa date back to the sixth or seventh centuries A4>.; 
Marco Polo speaks of Qpangu or Zipangu. 



140 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

to life under his hand; and they contain the humour of artkts who 
enjoyed themselves so much making them that after twenty centuries 
they are still capable of giving us pleasure. 

So much for the knowledge of Japanese origins, such as it is, made 
available by external research. We also, however, possess important 
documents written by the Japanese themselves as soon as they had 
mastered the formidable instrument represented by Chinese ideograms 
and started committing their traditions to paper. I have already referred 
to the Kajiki (a.d. 712) and the Nihon-shoki (a.d. 720); to these there must be 
added the Kogoshui 1 (a.d. 807), besides the ancient Shinto ritual books 
known as the Norito* Prior to that period the depositaries of national 
history and legend had been the members of the Katari-be, a sacred associ- 
ation of singers who on solemn occasions recited in the presence of the 
emperors the glories of their ancestors and the genealogies of the gods. 

According to their own thought and traditions as manifested in 
these works, the Japanese were of divine descent. Incidentally it should 
be remembered that these sacred texts are a late re-elaboration of at 
least three basic mythological cycles, those of Kyushu, Izumo, and 
Yamato, which often contradict each other; and they were written 
down when the Yamato dynasty exercised uncontested power over the 
whole archipelago; thus the final draft is, among other things, like the 
Aeneid , a huge panegyric of the reigning monarchy. At best the light that 
it can throw on Japanese history before a.d. 400 is, as J. Murdoch remarks 
in his History of Japan , dim. 

In the beginning, then, there was the Plain of High Heaven; this 
latter is the point of departure of the whole highly imaginative story 
which describes the origin and birth of the gods, of the world, of Em- 
peror and people. It is a jumble of prehistoric traditions and Chinese 
philosophy, oceanic myths, and continental learning. We meet the sun 
and the moon, wild love affairs and orgiastic dances, dragons and 
swords, fabulous journeys to the court of the king of the ocean depths, 
descents to the next world, to say nothing of transmutations into 
hideous masses of corruption and playful generations from noses, ears, 
eyes, mirrors, jewels, and the origin of the cultivation of rice. Thing? 
are alive, are transmuted, speak. Miracles are the law of nature, and 

• English translation by G. Kato and H. Hoshino, Tokyo, 1 au. 

■English translations by E M. Satuw, Tokyo, m, and K. PuaiNZ, Tokyo, oat. 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACEED WOOD 


nature laughs, gets angry, rewards, and threatens. There are delicate 
poetical episodes and the most extraordinary incongruities; a thing 
once said does not prejudice the most unexpected subsequent develop- 
ments; heroes live for hundreds of years or end their brief existence in 
an hour. All the names are brief descriptions of their holders, such as 
Clay-Viscid-Prince, Elder - Lady -of-the- Great -Place. Earthly -Water- 
Drawing-Gourd-Possessor, Great-Mountain-Integrator, Thing-Sign- 
Master, Thought-Includer, Heavenly-Blowing Male, Youth-of-the- 
Wind-Breath-Great-Male, etc., etc . 1 

It is impossible to summarize briefly this complicated conglomera- 
tion of stories. Let me mention some significant details. After a number 
of divine generations we meet Izanagi and Izanami (‘the Inviting Male* 
and ‘the Inviting Female’), who are probably brother and sister. Their 
lovt described with magnificently solemn obscenity, result in the birth 
of a number of deities, and finally of the islands of Japan. The idea of 
earth and sea, mountains and woods, nature herself, being born of the 
sacred voluptuousness of the gods throws light on many aspects of 
the Japanese mind and civilization. But let us proceed. At one point 
Izanami gives birth to the god of fire; in doing so she burns herself and 
dies. Izanagi, being desperately in love with his sister-wife, seeks for her 
in this world and the next. When at last with the aid of magic practices 
he finds her, she turns out to be a horrible, putrefying thing. Horrified, 
he returns to the world of the living, and bathes in a stream to purify 
himself. While he is washing himself numerous gods are born of the 
clothing which he removes and of the various parts of his body. Among 
them is Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who is born of his left eye, and the 
moon god, who is born of his right eye, while from his nose there springs 
a personage who in subsequent myths acquires great importance, 
namely Susanowo, ‘the Impetuous Male’, a personification of storm. 

Amaterasu soon ascends to the supreme place among the gods 
on the Plain of High Heaven. Curious and complicated events follow, 
and a long struggle between brother and sister; at one stage the offended 
goddess retires into a cave, leaving the world to darkness. After many 
attempts by supernatural beings to persuade her to emerge, the ‘August 
Female who Strikes Fear into the Skies* performs an indecent dance 
which causes the gods to laugh with terrifying loudness. This is too 

*B. H. CH4MMUA1N, tnniUtion of JMti, Kobe, mt 



141 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

much for Amaterasu’s curiosity, and she appears for a moment, where- 
upon the gods seize her, and light reappears in the world. Strange and 
complicated events follow, and other births take place in biologically 
unorthodox ways, until we meet Ninigi, a grandson of Amaterasu, who 
descends from the Flain of High Heaven to a mountain in Kyushu to 
reign among men. With Jimmu, a grandson of Ninigi, we meet the first 
really human Emperor, traditionally considered the founder of the line 
of H4 Emperors of Japan. 

Jimmu, according to the official chronology, mounted the throne 
on February n, 660 b . c .; modem historians consider that the true events 
of which these traditions are the shadow took place about 400 years 
later, about 100 b . c . Mythological events still abound in the story of 
Jimmu, but behind them a flesh-and-blood Emperor can be discerned. 
His greatest enterprise, which certainly symbolizes the long, warlike, 
eastward advance of the proto-Japanese, was the conquest, setting out 
from Kyushu, of all the territory up to the area where Nara later arose. 

From the time of Jimmu onwards the contents both of the Kojild 
and the Nihon-shoki gradually assume greater verisimilitude. History 
increasingly takes the place of fantasy, and chronicle and legend in- 
creasingly coincide. The joins between the three cycles of myths remain 
perceptible, however; in all probability they suggest a hard, century- 
long struggle for predominance on the part of the Yamato, first in their 
original environment of Kyushu and then in the central provinces, 
where there were innumerable aborigines who had to be subjected, as 
well as the rival Izumo dynasty, who were not aborigines, but were 
probably connected with Korea. 1 

Thus by a . d . 400 Japan had attained political unity, and possessed an 
Interesting civilization, the various elements of which had crystallized 
into a whole. It was familiar with the use of metals, but had not acquired 
the art of writing, had a religion of its own, and was, in fact, ready for the 
gigantic surge forward that it was to make in the next two centuries 
under the fertilizing influence of China. Soper observes with good reason 
that the Yamato standard of living, which at the end of the bronze age 
had been perhaps 1,500 years behind the Chinese, moved forward with 
a constant acceleration, and that at their final pace the Japanese achieved 

1 Sm Photograph u (the great Izumo shrine, Izumo Tahha, after be the Shinto religion*! moat 
aacrad place): and Photograph «, the high priest of the Izumo ahrtne. 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACEED WOOD U) 

a forced growth almost unique in world history before the industrial 
revolution . 1 Fourteen centuries later, in the Meiji period, Japan was to 
astonish the world by a not dissimilar performance. 

It would take us too far afield to expand on the interesting charac- 
teristics of Japanese civilization before the first contacts with China, but 
a feature which I should like to mention is the important place occupied 
by women. In the mythology goddesses are as powerful as, and more 
powerful than, the gods. We have already seen that the supreme posi- 
tion in the Japanese Olympus is occupied by Amaterasu, a goddess. But 
the situation on earth cannot have been very different. Prior to a.d. 769 
there were no fewer than seven Empresses, and an Emperor*s widow, 
Jingu (third century a.d.), conquered Korea, 'placing a stone under the 
belt on her belly to prevent the birth of the son with whom she was 
pregnant’. Her voyage across the sea was facilitated by fish who kept the 
ships afloat during a storm; it is not for nothing that in the Chinese 
annals of the Wei dynasty Japan appears as the almost fabulous land of 
'Queen Pimiku*. In ancient Japanese literature there are frequent 
references to powerful priest esses, and up to the fourteenth century the 
high priest of the Ise shrine was a daughter of the Emperor. Even in the 
ordinary life of centuries nearer our own the position of women must 
have been very different from what it was in a typically patriarchal 
country such as China. History records several examples of sons who 
took their mother’s surname; in 736, for example, Prince Katsuragi 
obtained the Emperor’s consent to his changing his name to Tachibana 
in honour of his dead mother. Women took as full a part as men fin 
cultural life, and there were many women poets— Higetabe no Akaiko, 
Kasa no Iratsune, Ono no Komachi. 

From the sixth century onwards Chinese civilization exercised an 
ever more powerful influence, and the position of women gradually 
changed; by the thirteenth century women had become perpetual 
slaves: first of their father, then of their husband, and then, if they were 
widowed, of their eldest son. Buddhism, and even more the teachings of 
Confucius, relegated them to total subordination. Nevertheless through- 
out the ages Japanese women have succeeded in maintaining something 
of their ancient independence. The most famous work in Japanese 
literature, the Tale of Genji , is the v^ork of a woman, Murasaki Shikibu 

1 T. E. Padu rod A. Som. V* An mi AnUaam tfjqm. London, wj. 



144 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

(wil-wul). Even todiy careful observers of Japanese life detea unex- 
pected survivals of an order of things which sixteen centuries have in 
vain tried completely to obliterate* 



What the Kami Really Are 

The ancient Japanese had no name for their religion. To distinguish it 
from Rutsu-dc ('the religion of Buddha’), when the latter 
was imported from China at the beginning of the fifth 
century, it was called Shinto, or Kami-no-michi, i.e., 
‘the way of the gods’. 

To gain an understanding of Buddhism it is necessary 
to make dear the fundamental concepts of samsara, 
karma, arhat, buddha, nirvana; and Christianity cannot be 
understood without full awareness of the meaning 
of creation, the fall, incarnation, redemption, the last 
judgment. Similarly, if we desire to make an intelligent 
approach to Shinto, we must first appreciate the many meanings of 
the word Itami. 1 

If we open a Japanese dictionary we shall find a whole multitude. 
The word originally meant simply ‘over, above'. Then its use was 
extended to objects or beings ‘over, above’ their surroundings; a moun- 
tain-top, for instance, or a leader, or the head of a valley, 
the hair of the head, the government, authority, a man’s 
wife (often used jokingly), a feudal lord, a supernatural 
being, the Emperor, a deified hero, etc. Some of these 
thing? were indicated by different ideograms, but that 
does not alter their common origin. Thus the general 
idea is ‘that which is over, above’, whether on the 
physical or the mental plane. Some modern dictionaries 
include God among the meanings of the word, but 
that is a crude mistake, a modem extension due to contact with 
the theocentric religions of the west. Indeed, to avoid continual 
misunderstandings, the missionaries have had to invent a special term 
for God, Tenshu (‘Lord of Heaven'). The kami, as Aston rightly says, ‘are 

• D. C Holtom, In bit well-known hbacal fUlmpky ef Afafc, Tokyo, 1922, devotes fifty- 

two pages to explaining the extraordinary wealth of meaning of tfah word. 


± 


god, godi 


Imd 



WOODEN rAVILIONS IN THE SACRED WOOD MS 

superior, swift, brave, bright, rich, etc, but not immortal, omniscient, 
or possessed of infinite power *. 1 

If anything, the i ami resemble the gods of Olympus. They are 
capricious, amusing, frightening, happy or sad, they fall ill, die, are 
resuscitated; they sometimes get drunk and commit the most appalling 
mischief; and sometimes they fight like heroes. They are, in other words, 
essentially human beings who live on the Plains of High Heaven. 

But the word is applied to an infinity of other things besides superior 
human beings. It is as wrong to limit its meaning to ‘god* with a small 
‘g* as it is to translate it by ‘God’ with a capital *G\ Kami is, in short, 
a concept round which the Japanese have constructed a most individual 
mental universe of their own. The great exegetist and historian Motoori 
Norinaga (1730-1801) writes: 

The term farm is applied in the first place to the various deities 
of heaven and earth mentioned in the ancient recoids, as well as 
to their spirits (mi-tama) which reside in the shrines where they are 
worshipped. Moreover, not only human beings, but birds, beasts, 
plants and trees, seas and mountains, and all other things whatso- 
ever which deserve to be dreaded and revered for the extraordinary 
and pre-eminent powers which they possess, are called kami . They 
need not be eminent for surpassing nobleness, goodness or service- 
ableness alone. Malignant and uncanny beings are also called kami 
if only they are the objects of general dread. . . . Among kami who 
are not human beings I need hardly mention Naru Kami (“the 
sounding kami", i.c., thunder). There are also the dragon, the echo (in 
Japanese called ko-dama, “the tree spirit*') and the fox, who are kami 
by reason of their uncanny and fearful natures. The term kami is 
applied in the Nifon-shoki and the Maimyoshu to the tiger and the 
wolf. . . . There are many cases of seas and mountains being called 
kami. It is not their spirits which are meant The word was applied 
directly to the seas or mountains themselves as being very awful 
things.'* 

Looked at from the outside, the world of kami would seem to be 
incapable of resisting the slightest puff of rationalism. But it is not of 

• V. G. Aston, SMmn. London, 

•Motoobi Nounaca, Lqlh-Dm, VoL L 
K 



146 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

a stuff meant to resist either puffs or storms of rationalism; we are on 
a different plane, in a world which consists of a poetical attitude towards 
the divinity in things . 1 

The word kami is like a signpost which simply indicates: At this 
point the invisible, the mysterious, begins. No claim is made to explain 
or discuss the unity, trinity, or plurality, the omnipotence or omnisci- 
ence, of the supreme jurisdiction, to possess the keys to truth, to have 
wrested the final secret from the universe. That is why Shinto has been 
able to co-exist with the highest level of civilization and to provide a way 
of communion with the ultimate things of the world for minds which 
were the very reverse of petty or ignoble. 

Divinity of Nature and Orgiastic Dances 

Many aspects of Shinto observable in everyday life are essential to an 
understanding of Japan, both past, present, and perhaps future. 

In the first place, there is the absolutely spontaneous and genuine 
popular aspect, which in all probability constitutes the most ancient 
nucleus of this religion. It consists, as we have seen, of a sense of deep 
reverence for the forces of nature, which are always present in a diffuse 
state but sometimes manifest themselves at a higher potential, with 
a warmer glow, in places, things, persons, events. Among the forces 
which would naturally seem most important to a people of peasants 
and fishermen are those which manifest themselves in the fertility of the 
fields, woods, and waters; hence the kami of the sun and of rich harvests, 
of the earth (Onamochi), the sea (the three gods of the temple of Sumi- 
yoshi at Osaka), of the wind (among others Ame no Mihashira, ‘the 
August Pillar of Heaven’), of fire (Homosubi, ‘Growth of Flame*), of the 
trees (Kukumochi, ‘Father of the Woods*), of waters and wells, of houses 
and doors, of the kitchen, and the hearth. Two of the kami still most 
venerated at the present day are Inari , 1 who presides over the sowing, 
growth, ripening, and gathering of the rice and manifests himself in his 
messenger, the fox; and Kompira, a divinity of obscure, possibly Indian, 
origin, who is the protector of sailors, fishermen, and travellers. 

• *JC«n should remain for ever mysterious and incomprehensible. 1 T. Haiada. The Path of Japm 
ISM. p. 46. 

• Photograph u shows the interior of the shrine of hurt at Kyoto, during a ceremony attended 
by Osaka Industrialists. 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SAC1ED WOOD 147 

X 

Finally, in the depths of the country you sometimes come across 
frankly phallic cults, and there are whispers of orgiastic dances and 
saturnalia, the purpose of which in the past perhaps consisted of magic- 
ally transmitting human fertility to the soil . 1 Since 1872 all governments 
have legislated against customs of this kind, which to the bureaucratic 
mind were uncivilized and offensive to respectable foreigners. But this 
only shows, if there were any need of it, how deeply rooted and spon- 
taneous the popular aspects of Shinto are. A phallic symbol about three 
feet tall is still to be seen beside a pond in Ueno Park in the centre of 
Tokyo. Near Nagoya there are a number of small shrines dedicated to 
the kami of fertility where Pompeian mementoes of permanent and 
enthusiastic fullness are distributed. As for occasions on which an 
ancient and sacred ritual licence is covered by the mantle of darkness, 
f can --ly only that 1 have often heard talk of them. Whether or not they 
take place it is haid to say; they may be only rumours based on practices 
which have vanished. A certain veil of mystery surrounds this, as other 
aspects of Japanese life. 

Another aspect of the popular religion is the practice of divination; 
the oracular pronouncements of men, and particularly women, in 
a state of hypnosis or catalepsy. Many will remember the scene in the 
film Rashomon in which the reibai, the medium, is possessed by the 
spirit of the dead man and in a terrifying voice tells the story of his 
murder as seen through his own eyes. This is something which 
may have been brought to Japan by invaders from Central Asia; it is 
reminiscent of practices indulged in since antiquity by the shamans of 
Mongolia. 

Apart from some details, perhaps of subsequent importation, like 
this last, in which an obscure sense of evil is to be detected, and an 
attitude of fear towards death and the unknown, Shinto in general is 
a religion of luminous optimism. Schiller described the cult of the gods 
of ancient Greece as a Wormedienst, a religion of love, joy, and gratitude 
rather than of fear. Aston remarks that the same applies to the native 
religion of Japan. Nearly all the chief Shinto gods are benevolent. They 
do not sit on judgment thrones. The main themes of Shinto prayer and 
ceremonies are thankfulness or joyous greeting. 

» G. Kato. a Shd$ tflkt Dn*rm * 0f*Mbgt*SUm UJwfmm fmfk m W—mi kfJ+mm 

Urn Bkum, Tokyo, 104 . 



14$ MEETING WITH JAPAN 

The most important principle of the cult is ritual purity. Given the 
divinity of the whole of nature, and hence of the human body, there 
was no necessity to differentiate between sin and dirt; the essential was 
to carry out certain rites, for which the requirements were scrupulous 
personal cleanliness ( misogi , ablutions), concentration and abstinence 
(imi), and contact with certain purifying things (e.g. t branches of sakalti, 
Cleyera japonica). For this and other reasons Shinto lays down no system 
of ethics expressed in commandments and prohibitions. Certain things 
are prohibited, but they are highly specialized, e.g., connected with the 
cultivation of rice; more important matters are left entirely vague. 
Many western students have concluded from this that Shinto is a 
religion without a morality, but this is incorrect; ideas of good and 
evil are intuitively derived from the actions and personalities of the 
kamu The emphasis is less on virtuous and honourable action than on 
a virtuous and honourable mind. Such a ‘morality of the heart’ is more 
consonant with the Japanese nature than an abstract, logical, moral 
code. 1 

It is very doubtful whether even in ancient times Shinto required 
sacrifices; in all its rites the emphasis is on offerings. A sacrifice implies 
pain, renunciation, self-punishment; an offering is an expression of 
pleasure and of a serene mind. The most typical Shinto rite is the 
matsuri, held to celebrate a deification, one's ancestors, a purification, 
a sowing, a harvest, or a good catch; it invariably ends with processions, 
games, eating, drinking, merrymaking, song and dance, miming, fires, 
popular explosions of colour, movement, and gaiety. 

Japan is the country of festivals, for which the people have an 
unbounded enthusiasm. Regimented and burdensome as their every- 
day life is, on matsuri days they fling off every care. Every district in every 
town, every shrine, every trade, every historical or mythical event, has 
its own festival, and they are celebrated in an extraordinary variety of 
ways. 1 There are the famous fire festivals held at night at Kurama 
(Kyoto) in October and at the Kannokura Jinja (Nagoya) in February; at 

• A. Hauchigo&ni, 'lx* Religions du Japon*, Histob* du Ritigims, VoL U. Paris, 1954. 

■Sis Photographs a, so (procession in the rice-fields at Haramachi); 44, 43 (sacred dance and 
fqpht music at Myajima); si (a hmasM, Shinto priest, on horseback In a procession); 97 (Inedi 
ready for a procession in Tokyo); js (fire festival at Kurama); 99 (horsemen at Haramachi); a»-as 
( S eq j a ml in Tokyo); iu (dance to Induce the end of the rains, at Shtnagawa, at the gates of Tokyo, 
with gasworks). 



VOODEN FAVILIONS IN THE SACKED WOOD U» 

Kyoto the solemn gion procession takes place in July and the toi mgtsuri 
procession in May; gay ceremonial blessings of the sea take place at 
many places during the summer; there are festivals at which the crowd 
dances through the streets (the awa odori) at Tokushima, in August, and 
there are strange winter masquerades in the snow at Akita (the so-called 
namahage)-, in towns some of these festivals, such as the Kanda rnyefm in 
Tokyo in May or the sanja-matswei, again in Tokyo, cause people dressed 
in ancient costumes to mingle with the trams and the traffic; elsewhere 
there are cavalcades in ancient costume (the noma-oi at Haramachi, in 
July) or extraordinary tests of skill (the k onto matsuri at Akita, in July); 
there are battles worthy of the palio at Siena between supporters of 
different factions (the kenka-matsuri at Himeji, in October). There are also 
other festivals the central features of which are huge lanterns (the 
o-ckochin at the Suwa Jinja, in August), or sacred cooking pots (the rube 
kammuxi matsuri at Mmbara, in May), or huge sandals (at Fukushlma, in 
January), or dragons, fireworks, rowing races, dances, feudal proces- 
sions, archery on horseback. A booklet which I have at hand 1 lists 447 
matsuri in the course of the year, ignoring those of purely local or minor 
interest. One of them is Christian (the seitai gyoretsu at Nagasaki, in June), 
a few are Buddhist (for instance the Dantesque saidai-ji eyo, at Okayama, 
in January), but the vast majority are either predominantly or exclu- 
sively of Shinto inspiration. 


Ancestors, Emperors, Politics 

Primitive Shinto was essentially nature worship. Scholars are not yet 
agreed whether this included ancestor worship or not. British historians 
and the Japanese themselves (W. G. Aston, B. H. Chamberlain, G. Kato) 
generally maintain that it did; French scholars (M. Revon, Father 
Martin) on the whole argue that it did not. The probability is that 
Shinto always contained some slight element of it; but it is certain that 
it was contact with China that caused such emphasis to be laid on it as 
to make it seem absolutely vital. It is probable that from the earliest 
times patrons of clans or families were transformed into divine ancestors. 
The custom of deifying exceptional men has notably enriched the 


‘Ndtom KtomfiMU. Naji CySp, Tokyo, »».’ 



UO MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Shinto pantheon, and this, gradually filtering down to the popular level, 
has led to the belief that every dead person is a turn . 1 

Here we come to a point of extreme importance in Japanese history. 
In what circumstances did the Emperor come to be universally recog- 
nized as a descendant of the sun goddess? How did he come to combine 
in himself both supreme religious authority and supreme political 
power? Perhaps we shall never know for certain. The fact remains that 
at the time when the Kojiki and the Nihon-shoki were written, at the 
beginning of the eighth century, the process was already complete. It is 
worth noting that the ancient word for government’, matsurigoto f is 
related to matsuri, religious observance; and that to this day the word 
miya means both 'important shrine’, 'palace 1 , and 'prince’. Thus from 
remote times, side by side with the popular Shinto religion, which 
might have survived side by side with Buddhism (like the Bon religion 
in Tibet) or disappeared (like paganism in Europe), there was an official, 
canonical, Shinto embodied in the highest personage in the land. 

This variety of Shinto is very different from the first ; before 194s there 
was actually a legal distinction between the two. The popular religion 
was officially a denomination like any other, but official Shinto was the 
state religion, and to make it possible for everyone, even Christians, to 
take part in its observances, it was declared in theory to be no more and 
no less than ‘a sign of respect towards the civil institutions'. The story 
of this variety of Shinto is complex and interesting and, for good or evil, 
is intimately bound up with the fortunes of Japan. Here I shall mention 
only a few points. 

In the first place, there was the encounter with Buddhism. This 
took place in the sixth and seventh centuries, to the accompaniment 
of much conflict between opposing factions. A direct comparison be- 
tween the poetical but primitive native cult and the great religion of 
Asia, rich in lofty metaphysics and subtle dialectics, must inevitably have 

■To the category of the deified there belong, for instance. Temmangu (the kami of learning 
and calligraphy), i.e., Sugawara Michizane (so-703), a memorable scholar-warrior, who died after 
being unjustly exiled; a number of emperors or empresses, including Jimmu, the first of the 
line; JingQ, the fourteenth; Kwammu, die fiftieth, the founder of Kyoto; a number of national 
heroes; several sporting champions (including Nomi no Sukune, the patron of wrestlers); the 
poet Hltomaro; the poetess Hime; a great airman of the last war (Kato); and the murderer of a 
Minister of Education who in 1H9 dared lift with his walking-stick a veil which protected from 
profane eyes the holy of holies of the Ise shrine. 



WOODEN PAVILIONS IN THE SACKED WOOD Q 

meant the final victory of the latter had Shintoism not been so com- 
pletely identified with the imperial dynasty and the spirit of the nation. 
The Buddhist theologians from the times of K5b5 Daishi (ninth century) _ 
onwards found themselves faced with the problem of what to do about 
the native religion, and they had no difficulty in finding a solution. The 
burn, they decided, were terrestrial incarnations of the Buddha; Budd- 
hists and Shintoists in reality worshipped the same thing. They identi- 
fied Amaterasu, for instance, with Dai-Nichi-Nyorai, the ‘Great Light*, 
the Amitabha of the Indians, the Opame of Tibet This is the doctrine 
known in the history of Japanese philosophy as that of htmji-aujaku 
(‘manifestations of the primordial essence’). The recent researches of 
Professor Z. Tsuji, published in his monumental history of Japanese 
Buddhism, 1 have shown that it took definite shape and came to be 
generally accepted only in the tenth century. 

F-f many centunes the Japanese, who by nature are inclined more 
to the aesthetic appeal of religion than to the logic of an explicit creed, 
lived under the domain of what was called ryobu-shinto, a Shinto-Budd- 
hism ‘of two faces'. It was often difficult to tell whether you were in 
a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine. Except at a few places where 
efforts were made to keep the two faiths uncontaminated by each other, 
the confusion of statues, rites, liturgy, styles, writings, priestly orders, 
became complete. To this day the Japanese popular mind confronts you 
with a unique and profoundly rooted eclecticism. The general attitude 
is reverence for every manifestation of the divine; we are in the domain 
of the emotions, of kimochi (mood, state of mind), which is that in which 
the Japanese are most at ease. 

With the eighteenth century a slow reaction began. At first it was 
restricted to a few scholars working on the interpretation of ancient 
texts; then it grew more vigorous when certain ideas started spreading 
among the public. A demand arose for a return to the pure, original 
Shinto, and for a restoration to the Emperor of the power held by the 
Tokugawa shoguns. This movement started in the minds of a few great 
historians (Kada, 1668-1736, Kamo, 1697-1769, Motoori, 1730-1801, Hirata, 
1776-1843); it ended in the hands of plotters and conspirators and, after 
the restoration of 1868 (the first year of the reign of the Emperor Meiji), 
became state doctrine. Henceforward it was perilously linked with 

■ Z. Tjuji. Niffm IhUfi SM. ax volt, Tokyo, 1H4-5V 



152 MEETING WITH JAEAN 

politics, buthido , 1 and tide, and official Shinto became a diabolical instru- 
ment of aggression, tyranny, and obscurantism, which ended in the 
disaster of imj. 

But of all that we shall speak later. I shall, however, assume that 
the reader is now better able to understand the Japanese attitude to the 
Emperor's divinity, which was officially abolished by the decree of 
September 2, 1945, but might well be revived in a new form tomorrow. 
No Japanese believes that his Majesty the Emperor Hirohito receives his 
breakfast by levitation, or that he is able to change the sands of the sea 
into coal, rice, or gold. The error consists in using western language, 
and saying that the Emperor is a god instead of saying that he is a hum. 
God is the creator, omnipotent and eternal; a hum is a thing or person 
in whom there is a stronger charge of that divine essence which is 
concealed everywhere about us. The Japanese are not crazy, incompre- 
hensible, deluded beings, but simply poets. 



* MMt ("the w»y of the wmior*) cut be duciibed a* • body of Hat, rules of conduct, eaoo- 
tional and artistic impulses, which took shape at the beginning of the feudal era (twelfth century); 
the word, however, and the unifying concept, are recent. See p. vy. 


5 

Buddha and Beauty at 
Mount Mur6 



Little Space, Many Places 

P erhaps becaust the roads, particularly the secondary roads, are 
narrow and wind their way capriciously up hills and down valleys, 
past bays, capes, and gulfs, Japan, which is a small country, ends by seem- 
ing immense. Moreover, as one is constantly surrounded by woods, 
and the eye rarely embraces a broad horizon, travel is broken up into 
a succession of ever-changing glimpses, a continual series of surprises. 
So much is compressed into a limited space that some days, having with 
difficulty travelled 150 miles, you feel as if you had travelled a thousand. 

This morning we left the sea behind, making towards Nara, crossing 
valleys and mountain passes, penetrating deeper and deeper into a 
typically and delightfully Japanese landscape. Valley succeeded valley; 
everything was small and articulated, and everywhere there were tall, 
leafy trees. Where the ground was flat rice-fields were laid out with the 
elegance of ideograms, and ribbons of smoke rose peacefully from the 
thatched roofs hidden among the foliage. 

No Japanese schoolboy can contemplate such a scene without calling 
to mind the half-mythical, half-historical story of the good, fourth- 
century Emperor Nintoku (‘Benevolent Virtue*). In those days an 
emperor's death involved his successor in building a new palace and 
a new capital, often several miles distant from the old. This was a sur- 
vival of an old and long since vanished Japanese superstition, accord- 
ing to which a death, the consummation of a marriage, and child- 
birth were impure events. Special pavilions, which were subsequently 

133 


154 MEETING WITH JAEAN 

destroyed, were therefore built for births and the consummation of 
marriages; 1 the house in which a death occurred had to be abandoned 
and a new one built elsewhere. The consequence was that until the 
eighth century the Japanese capital was a kind of big, mobile camp. But 
in 710 the Empress GemmyS built the first real city, Nara, where her 
successors remained for three-quarters of a century and civilization 
prospered, reaching a level seldom surpassed in Asian history. 

The good Emperor Nintoku, then, 

‘ascending a lofty mountain and looking on the land all round, 
spoke, saying: “In the whole land there rises no smoke; the land is 
all poverty-stricken. So I remit all the people’s taxes and forced 
labour from now till three years.” Therefore the great palace became 
dilapidated, and the rain leaked in everywhere; but no repairs were 
made. The rain that leaked in was caught in troughs, and [the 
inmates] removed from its reach to places where there was no 
leakage.’ 1 

One day the Emperor noticed that smoke was at last issuing abun- 
dantly from the chimneys again. At this he was glad at heart, and gave 
orders that a palace should be built for himself and the royal household. 

Thinking of ancient emperors seems particularly appropriate in 
these parts. We crossed the Aoyama pass, 3 and passed through the Iga 
country, where Bash5 was born in 1644. Bash© (‘Banana’) was one of 
the greatest of Japanese poets, who made famous the brief, epigram- 
matic poems of barely seventeen syllables called haikai. We now found 
ourselves on the threshold of Yamato, the Japanese Tuscany, the area 
which for centuries was the scene of Japanese history, where the arts 
reached their zenith, and every wood and hill and temple has an aura 
of myth and legend. 

The September sun was strong, and we were enjoying the first 
really fine, bright weather after the endless haze and heat and rains of 
summer. The miniature valleys became steeper and stranger, and the 

1 A survival of this archaic custom was observed by E. Satow in the island of HachijS, to the 
south of Tokyo, in 1878. A thorough search of the more remote parts of the country might yield 
examples at the present day. 

•Kq(U,V ol.m,p.m. 

■ Aoyama means 'green* or perhaps *blue' mountain. Only in recent times have the Japanese 
begun to distinguish the two colours; aoi still includes all the cold colours of the spectrum. 



BUDDHA AND BEAUTY AT MOUNT MUtO 


155 


road was so narrow that we were continually held up by carts and 
jolting vehicles marked basu, i.e., bus. 

We followed a stream that had worn a deep channel through the 
quartziferous rock of the extinct volcanoes of Mount Mur5, the moun- 
tain of the 'living cave*. Trees grew in baroque clusters among the black 
rocks, and houses grew rarer; suddenly we came upon the huge hollow 
in the rock wall on the left where thirteenth-century artists carved 
a dreaming Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, 1 the final saviour of 
mankind. We were now near the Murd-ji, one of the oldest, remotest, 
most fascinating, and least-known temples in Japan. 

The country grew still wilder; the valley narrowed, the walls on 
either side with their dark green clumps of vegetation overhung us 
ominously, the rushing stream turned into a deep ditch, the water 
glistened among the rocks ; and it was easy to see why from the remotest 
antiquity this has been considered a place of marvels; here it would be 
natural to expect trees, animals, and rocks to speak, and there would 
be no difficulty in believing the lord of the place to be a dragon living in 
a cave. 


Brief Digression on Dragons 

Dragons are old acquaintances, both in Asia and Europe; they may have 
a common origin in the Indian naga, a serpiform water deity beautifully 
portrayed among the bas-reliefs of Mamallapuram. Whatever may one 
day be established by the archaeologists, however, the fact remains that 
there could not possibly be a greater contrast in personality than that 
between the European dragon and its Far Eastern counterpart. 

In Europe there were Greek and Roman dragons, and the diabolical 
dragons of the Middle Ages; nowadays they barely survive, except as 
manufacturer’s trade marks, but before they declined to that prosaic 
level they had a long and proud career. But always and invariably they 
were associated with evil, like the basilisk, the chimaera, the hydra, the 
gorgon, and the viper. They started by being guardians of the Golden 
Fleece, the gardens of the Hesperides, and the Castalian spring, but in 
a later age they appeared in the visions of the Apocalypse, causing a 
third of the stars to fall from the heaven with a sweep of their tail, 

‘la Japanese Miroku Boaatiu. 



136 MEETING WITH JAEAN 

threatening to devour children born of divine women, calling up from 
the sea beasts with ten horns and seven heads, vomiting forth hideous, 
frog-like monsters; and with the Middle Ages they allied themselves 
with, or became manifestations of, the devil, deceiving noble knights 
with atrocious cries or sweet song, or intervening between them and the 
conquest of virtue, often impersonating beautiful princesses. The 
slaying of the dragon by the hero— Perseus, St. George, Siegfried — is 
a constant western theme. 

Dragons were taken seriously until comparatively recent times. 
Ulissi Aldrovandi ( 1522 - 1605 ) devoted 509 folio pages of his Serpentum et 
Dractmm to ’humans of the name of Draco, with sea-serpents, tarantulas, 
plants, trees, stars, devils, quicksilver, mountains, traps, fistulae, sirens, 
Hydras, anacondas, whales, leviathan, fossils, hieroglyphs and even 
with an early form of aircraft called a Dragon ’. 1 He added that it was 
possible for unscrupulous people to forge a dragon, by plastic surgery, 
on the cadaver of a Giant Ray. In 1651 M. A. Sanseverino gave a detailed 
description of the dragon and the basilisk in his learned treatise De vipera 
nature, vtneno, medicine. J. Scheuchzer, half-way between myth and science, 
was the last serious student of dragons in the Alps in the eighteenth 
century . 1 

The eastern dragon is a complex character; he has a fundamental 
kinship with water. Now, plants, animals, men, cannot live without 
water, on which all life depends. Basically, therefore, water is a friend; 
but it can also be an enemy— there is little need to recall the havoc that 
can be wrought by storm and flood. The character of the eastern 
dragon is a reflection of that of water in all its manifestations; it can be 
terrible, capricious, often incomprehensible, sometimes mocking, but 
fundamentally it is beneficent, well disposed towards men and, if the 
latter treat it right, it will respond by protecting them. 

It was chiefly in China that the personality of the oriental dragon 
was built up, and the creature displayed a constant and profound 
attachment for that country; consequently it is there that it should be 
studied in all its magnificent complication. From the remotest antiquity 
the dragon has been known in China as the ‘father of felicity’, the ‘king 

1 T. H. Whitk, The Book of Busts, being a Translation frm a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century, London 
1994, p. 163. Sat alia J. Balt&usaxtis, Lt Moytn Age Fmtatiqm, Paris, 1999* Chapter V. 

1 ). SaouCHOt, Itimn ptr Helvetia Alphas Regimes, Leyden, mk 



BUDDHA AND BEAUTY AT MOUNT MUE5 


U7 


of animal creation ’. 1 Temples and sacred woods were 
often dedicated to dragons, which were believed to 
be present everywhere, though generally invisible. 
They influenced and guided the affairs of men; their 
home was generally the water, but some lived on 
mountains (these seem to have been the evil ones). 
The dragon was considered the chief of the Four 
Spiritual Animals, of which the other three were the 
ling (in Japanese kirin), a kind of horse-giraffe-unicorn; 
the feng (in Japanese ho), a fabulous bird related to the 
phoenix; and the kuei (in Japanese ham), the tortoise. 
The dragon was also the tutelary deity of the Five 
Regions (i.e., north, south, east, west, and centre), and 
the u -lardian of the Five Lakes and the Four Oceans 
(i.e., of all the world’s waters). 

Chinese authors have repeatedly explained that 
dragons are not divine beings, but animals possessed 
of extraordinary power, to be classified with other 
scaly reptiles. Their appearance is described as minutely 
as if they were rabbits or cauliflowers. The dragon has 
the head of a horse, the body and neck of a winged 
serpent, and four legs. Some dragonologists speak of 
the so-called Nine Resemblances, i.e., the horns of a 
stag, the face of a camel, the eyes of a devil, the neck of 
a serpent, a stomach like a huge shell, the scales of a 
carp, the claws of an eagle, the pads of a tiger, and the 
ears of a bull. Some kinds have no ears, and are assumed 
to hear with their horns. Certain arch-dragons appear 
to bear on their foreheads the so-called Pearl of Poten- 
tiality in which there are combined and united the two 
Chinese fundamental principles of yin and yang. Yin is 
the feminine principle, negative, nocturnal, wet, and 
immobile; yang is male, positive, diurnal, dry, and 
mobile. The experts mention that, if the dragon loses 
this pearl, it loses its power; some successful dragon- 
hunters seem to have taken advantage of this peculiarity. 

• B. T. C WinNn, A ttdbmj cfCkhm UjUtltff, Shanghai, m, p. m * ■». 





dragon 


Ki Ha 
hone 
giraffe 
unicorn 


Hi 

phoenix 


Km t 


turtle 


The Four Spiritual 
Animals 



QB MEETING WITH Jkt AN 

Information about the ways of dragons is equally copious. Their 
home, generally speaking, is in the watery depths. In the spring they 
rise to the surface. Thunder then galvanizes them into action, so to 
speak, and like a flash they ascend to the clouds; their great weight 
resting on these squeezes out the water and causes rain. The kings of the 
dragons live in the depths of the sea, where they have marvellous 
palaces guarded by marine animals. There are either four, eight, or ten 
of these kings; the authorities differ. One authority divides dragons into 
four categories: celestial dragons who act as guardians of the gods; 
spiritual dragons who watch beneficently over mankind; earthly 
dragons who live in the waters and mountains; and, finally, dragons 
who stand guard over hidden treasure. These last are very dangerous. 

Sometimes there is mention of battles between dragons, who then 
disappear, leaving behind them nothing but a curious kind of fertilizing 
foam; and of duels between male and female dragons, generally near 
the confluence of rivers. At this point the water cult is insensibly 
transmuted into a fertility cult. 

Dragons were much sought after as ancestors. The Hsia, the first 
Chinese dynasty, claimed dragons among its ancestors; a branch of the 
‘imperial family enjoyed the privilege of raising and breeding dragons, 
which it kept in contented domesticity, like cattle. One of the Hsia 
emperors seems to have lived on a diet of dragon-meat in order to make 
his realm prosper. Later the dragon became the imperial emblem. The 
Chinese imperial dragon incidentally had five claws; ordinary dragons 
have only four. So close were men and dragons in this great and imagin- 
ative civilization that the highest praise to which a man could aspire 
was to be called ‘dragon*. According to a rather Baroque simile, good 
writers use their brushes as a dragon moves its tail. (In the Far East you 
write with a brush.) 

There are enough dragon stories to fill a book. They all illustrate the 
extreme sensitivity of dragons, their fanciful, capricious behaviour, 
their fundamental kindness of heart. I have already mentioned the 
dragon of the Taipo mountain who withheld the rain because he had 
been called count instead of duke. Another famous dragon in Kiangsu 
fell in love with a peasant girl. One day she gave birth to a strange, fleshy 
object which soon changed into a white dragon. It took wing, to the 
accompaniment of thunder, lightning, and terrifying downpours of 



IVOOBA A«0 BEAUTY AT MOUNT MOBS qp 

rain, and vanished into the sky. It is said that every year, on the eight- 
eenth day after the third full moon, pilgrims used to flock to the temple 
dedicated to the white dragon, who used to come down on that day to 
visit his mother’s tomb. Then there is the story of the prince turned 
into a dragon who caused a famous victory to be won against the 
Mongols by sending swarms of infuriated bees among them. For this he 
was promoted to high rank at court and called Golden King Dragon 
No. 4 . 

It would take us too far afield to describe the innumerable shapes 
assumed by dragons in art. According to Williams, the Chinese distin- 
guish nine types, all with different names: 

% 

‘(i) the P’i 1 aO, carved on top of bells and gongs, in token oF its 
habit of crying out loudly when attacked by its arch-enemy the 
whale; (2) the Ch’iu niu, carved on the screws of fiddles owing to its 
taste for music; (3) the Pi hsi, carved on the top of stone tablets, since 
it was fond of literature; (4) the Pa hsia, carved on the bottom of 
stone monuments, as it was able to support heavy weights; (5) the 
Chao feng, carved on the eaves of temples, owing to its liking for 
danger; ( 6 ) the Ch’ih wen, carved on the beams of bridges, because 
of its fondness for water; (7) the Suan ni, carved on Buddha’s 
throne, on account of its propensity for resting; (s) the Yai tzu, 
carved on sword hilts in memory of its lust for slaughter; (9) the 
Pi hai, carved on prison gates, as it was addicted to litigation and 
quarrelling .* 1 


The Muro-ji 

Dragons took to Japan, to which they were first introduced perhaps 
2,000 years ago, like a duck to water. The Japanese landscape, with its 
shady valleys and steep rocks towering above, its streams, its woods, 
the silence of which was broken only by the song of the uguisu, the 
nightingale, its waterfalls and rivers, the sea, its strange-shaped cloud- 
capped mountains full of caves, must have struck them like an earthly 
paradise. They established themselves in the hearts of men as well. If 
one started following up the traces "that dragons have left in Japanese 

• M. Williams, Buddhism, London, H90. 



160 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

folklore, place-names, etc., one would quickly fill volumes. Up to only 
yesterday, when a Japanese wanted a name for a secret society with 
aims which appeared good to him, however infamous they were, what 
did he call it? The Black Dragon Society. 

Since times which antedate the first written documents a kami has 
been associated with the springs that rise in the Mur 5 mountains and 
bring fertility to the Yamato valleys. His home was one— it is not certain 
which — of three sacred caves still to be seen today, and special prayers 
are addressed to him in times of drought. When dragons arrived from 
China he was identified with one of them named Ryuketsu-Jin ('the 
divine dragon dwelling in the cave'), and he acquired great renown; his 
aid was sought to procure, not only rain, but every kind of good thing. 
Between a.d. 770 and 780, for instance, when the Crown Prince (the 
subsequent Emperor Kwammu, the founder of Kyoto) was gravely ill, 
five priests prayed at length for him in the solitudes of the Mur 5 moun- 
tains. He recovered, and the fame of the dragon ascended to the skies. 

Meanwhile the religion of Buddha, with its arts and its civilizing 
influence, had made a clamorous entry into Japan, and the changes that 
it wrought spread into the remotest recesses in the mountains. Budd- 
hism has nearly always adopted rather than fought the religions it 
found in its path; that explains the fantastic variety of forms in which 
it presents itself, from Ceylon to Lhasa, from Burma to Nara, from 
Mongolia to China. There are conflicting stories about the origin of the 
great temple of Mur 5 ; according to the most acceptable version, it was 
built by the Abbot Kenkei, the leader of the five monks who contributed 
to the cure of the future Emperor Kwammu. Others claim that it was 
founded by the famous Kob 5 -Daishi (774-83}), but this seems to be one 
of the many instances in which a great reputation attracts to itself the 
work either of predecessors or of pupils. 

We left the car under a tree in a quiet old village that hugged the 
stream, crossed a bridge, and climbed a steep little valley through a dark 
wood of cryptomerias. At the top of some steep steps we came in sight 
of the first temples; I was reminded of Vallombrosa before the tourist 
invasion. With its huge tree-trunks, its silence, and its strange echoes, of 
the kind that are to be heard only in conifer woods, the place became ever 
more fabulous. Just beyond the temples there suddenly came into view 



261 


BUDDHA AND BEAUTT AT MOUNT MU&5 

one of the loveliest things in Japan: an ancient pagoda, small in com- 
parison with other similar pagodas, a perfectly proportioned toy not 
fifty feet high, which seemed to increase the magic of the huge trees all 
around. 

The total effect that the Mur6-ji (ji means temple) makes cannot 
have changed greatly since it was first built at the beginning of the ninth 
century, during a period of remarkable Buddhist fervour and of great 
felicity in the arts. True, of the original buildings only the pagoda and 
part of the Kon-do (‘Golden Hall’) remain; the rest, as so often happens 
in Japan, fell victim to fire. But the restorations of the Kamakura period 
(thirteenth century) merge admirably with it. 

A number of sculptures of the highest value survive from the 
original period. In the Miroku-do (‘Hall of Maitreya’, the Buddha of the 
futu: ) there is a wooden statue of Miroku, standing erect, which 
reminds one of certain Romanesque saints. The magnificent statue of 
Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, the ‘Enlightened 
One’), also in wood, demonstrates a perfect mastery of the material, and 
the expression combines supreme wisdom with the most gentle com- 
passion. The light and harmonious drapery carries all the way to this 
remote Pacific island echoes of the Greek art which combined with that 
of Asia in the Kingdom of Gandhara. 

A nervous, skinny, little old man acted as our guide; he repeated 
a sing-song patter which he had learned by heart. Not even the offer of 
a tip would halt his inexorable progress. My Japanese friends tried to 
persuade him that it was only once in a life-time that the poor gaijin 
(foreigner) was able to come from the other end of the world to visit 
this remote spot in the Mur5 mountains, but this made no impression; 
he seemed to think such a pilgrimage the most natural thing in the 
world. He would not let us take photographs and, if we wanted to look 
at one statue while he was talking about another, it was just too bad. 
We had to submit and follow him from Buddha to Buddha like auto- 
mata. When it was over one of my friends had a brilliant idea. Would he 
take us round again 1 Certainly; provided we followed him meekly, 
without deviating one moment from his intinerary, he would take us 
round as many times as we liked. 

The Kon-do (‘Golden Hall’) was just beyond. The interior was small 
and dark. The walls must once have been covered with paintings, but 

L 



162 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

only faded remnants survive; against a partition there stood a row of 
over-life-size wooden statues of standing figures, all with flame-shaped 
haloes, as well as a number of paintings of varying merit, but all of the 
original period, known to the Japanese as the Konin period. Unfortu- 
nately the most valuable statue, of Jizo, a Bodhisattva considered to be 
the protector of travellers, pregnant women, and children, was on loan 
to a Tokyo museum. There were, however, a number of small statues of 
shinsc (warrior-defenders of the faith) attributed to one of the greatest 
Japanese sculptors, Unkei (twelfth-thirteenth centuries); these are 
works of extraordinary vigour. 

Everything about us spoke of an esoteric, imaginative Buddhism. 
The Muro temples, though they originally belonged to the Hossd sect, 
have for centuries been one of the most important centres of the 
Shingon(‘True Word’) sect founded by K5b5-Daishi.Shingon Buddhism 
closely resembles that of Tibet or Mongolia, the most sumptuous 
flower of the Mahayana, the 'Great Vehicle’, so rich in mystery and 
symbolism that in the end it cloys. The few traces left on the walls 
reminded me of similar murals in Tibet, for instance at the Kum-Bum 
at Gyantse, 1 with their dozens, nay hundreds, of metaphysical Buddhas, 
angelic essences, thrones, dominations, principalities, and powers be- 
longing to a universe of gnostic hints, and their interplay of shifting, 
fleeting harmonies, as in a crystal. 

That we were in a temple dedicated to esoteric cults was not in 
doubt, but what a difference there is between such places in Japan and 
Tibet! How differently the character of the two peoples expresses itself 
through the medium of an almost identical religion! In a Tibetan 
Buddhist temple there is darkness, mystery, magnificence, and filth, 
the stink of yak butter, a love of death and horror, a strange, twisted 
mentality, sex mingled with mystical exaltation, barbarous couplings 
combined with extreme asceticism, magic and gnosticism, a multiplica- 
tion of arms, heads, and symbols, unbridled audacity and imagination, 
a continuous metaphysical shudder. Here, however, there is not dark- 
ness, but subdued light, cleanliness seems a natural quality of things, 
the decoration is quiet and discreet, the representations of the gods, 
though obeying the esoteric dictates of the same Asian doctrine, express 
a deep respect for the dignity of the human form, a serene pleasure in 

G. Tuca, Indfi-Tibetica, Rome, imi, Vol. XV, Part 1£L 



BUDDHA AND BEAUTY AT MOUNT MUEO 1*3 

the loftiest impulses of the mind. In Tibet the eleven heads of Avaloki- 
tesvara become a teratological game, a palaeontology of the jurassic 
layers of the mind. Here they are a light crown, which you would 
barely notice if you did not know that they belonged to the icono- 
graphical pattern. Nowhere else do the two fundamental virtues of the 
Japanese mind stand out so brilliantly, its love of purity, and its vivid, 
total feeling for man. 

We left the ‘Golden Hall* and climbed to the Kancho-do, a graceful 
building of a somewhat later period (Kamakura, thirteenth century), 
with its enchanting, slightly curved, bark roof. Inside our attention was 
immediately attracted by a statue of Nydirin Kwannon (another form 
of Avalokitesvara). Here we were really confronted with Tantric fan- 
tasies. The deity is seated in the rajalila ('regal repose') position, has six 
am" and in each of his six hands carries symbols, including a rosary, 
the jewel that grants all desires, a lotus bud, and the wheel of the law. 
Tibetan artists in such cases seem carried away by the mystic symbolism; 
but the Japanese sculptor, as Getty rightly observes, 1 concentrated all 
his efforts into expressing in human terms a calm exterior combined 
with the most intense introspection. Moreover, the symbols are there 
because the priests said they were required; the artist’s chief aim was to 
create a harmony in which the six-armed human monstrosity could be 
resolved elegantly into rhythmical form. 


Brief Digression on Pagodas 

Beyond the pagoda was a pathway leading into the wood and climbing, 
first gently and then more steeply, to a temple called Okuno-in Mieido 
(‘Remote Pavilion of the Honourable Shadow’), dedicated to K5b5 
Daishi, and containing a statue of him. We were not a thousand feet 
above sea-level, but the vegetation was almost Alpine; an occasional 
ray of sunshine, penetrating the foliage like the high windows of a 
Gothic nave, played on the green carpet of ferns. 

When we emerged from the wood on our way back we again found 
ourselves looking at the elegant tracery of the pagoda. We sat among 
the ferns and admired it. But what exactly is a pagoda’ Why were these 


1 A. Getty, TktGodt of Northern Bnddhbm, Oxford, ML 



i. The great stupa of Sanchi (second-first centuries, b.c.). 2. Stupa carved in the rock; 
cave at Karli (second century, a.d.). 3. Stupa inside Cave XIX at Ajanta (fourth-seventh 
centuries, a.d.). 4. A stupa at Nalanda (ninth century, a.d.). 5. Dagoba (stupa)in Ceylon, 
Anuradhapura (first century, b.c.). 6 . The biggest stupa in the world, Barabudur, 
Java (eighth century, A.D.). 7. A small pagoda with thatched roofs, Bali (contem- 
porary period). 8 . The Mingalazedi stupa at Pagan, Burma (fourteenth century). 

9. Siamese prachedi (stupa); ruins of Ayudhya (fourteenth-eighteenth centuries). 

10. Shwe Dagon pagoda, Rangoon, Burma (sixteenth century), n. Model of a 
Gandhara stupa, from the excavations at Jaulian (first-third centuries, a.d.). 12. Tibetan 
shortens, Lhasa (fifteenth-nineteenth centuries). 13. The Kumbum at Gyantse, Tibet 
(fifteenth century). 14. The small Bodnath stupa , Katmandu, Nepal (ninth century), 
is. Small Nepalese Buddhist temple (Patan). 16. Twelve-cornered pagoda of the 
Sung-ytteh monastery, Honan, China (sixth century, A.D.). 17. Ta-yen-t'a pagoda, 
Hsian-fu, Shensi, China (seventh century, a.d.). 18. ‘Iron-colour* pagoda, K*ai-feng, 
Honan, China (eleventh century). 19. Pagoda 'of the Relics’, Wu-tai-shan (Shansi, 
China). 20. Wooden pagoda of the Fo-kung monastery, Ying-hsien, Shansi, China 
(eleventh century). 21. Pagoda on the Fang mountain (twelfth century). 22. The 
White Pagoda, Ch’ing-chou, Jehol, China (eleventh-twelfth centuries). 23. Pei-chen 
pagoda, Chin-hsien, Manchuria (eleventh century). 24. Pagoda at Ch'ttan-chou, 
Fukien, China (thirteenth century). 25. Small pagoda in park at Seoul, Korea 
(fourteenth century). 26. Pagoda at the Horyu-ji, Nara, Japan (seventh century). 
27. Pagoda at the Yakushi-ji, Nara, Japan (eighth century). 28. Yasaka pagoda, Kyoto, 
Japan (rebuilt in 1618). 29. Small pagoda of the tahSto type at the Ishiyama-dera, Otsu, 

Japan (eleventh century). 



From stupa to pagoda. Some of the innumerable buildings scattered about the countries of east 
Asia all built for the same purpose, namely to preserve sacred relics and honour the religion of 
the Buddha. The experts are not in agreement on how some of the more striking transformations 

illustrated above took place. 

n.b. The various drawing are not on the same scale 
(Drawings by S. Fannutl based on data supplied by the author) 


1 66 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

bold and complicated wooden structures built ? Where did they origi- 
nate? Once more I am reminded of Tibet, and of those typical turrets of 
masonry which mark the landscape of the high plateaux of Central 
Asia, announcing: Here the law of Buddha is honoured. But that is 
another world; rocks, unlimited space, ochre tints, and in the far 
distance, perhaps, a small dot that might be a wild yak, or a travelling 
monk, or a shepherd. . . . Here we are among wooded recesses and 
alcoves, leafy horizons, and before us is the exquisite embroidery of 
lines of the pagoda. But we are confronted with the same thing, the 
same fundamental idea, transformed in different ways. 

Its origin must be sought in India, where since time immemorial 
it was the custom to bury particularly venerated men, or important 
relics connected with them, in small structures of stone and mortar 
called stupas. From the earliest times the stupa was not just a gravestone, 
a tomb, a monument to the dead, but a representation in miniature of 
certain definite ideas concerning the nature of the universe. It has its 
own symbolism; it is a metaphysical diagram of the world in three- 
dimensional stone. The most famous stupa in India is that at Sanchi, the 
remains of which can still be seen . 1 

In Tibet the stupa changed its shape, became elongated, and assumed 
a character of its own. Its symbolism was elaborated, and became a 
whole branch of knowledge. Moreover the Tibetan stupa, which is called 
a chorten, is less a tomb than a reliquary, a cenotaph, an expression of 
gratitude for a granted prayer, or simply a token of faith, like a cross on 
a hill-top in Catholic Europe. 

In China the stupa changed in a different way. It was given greater 
height, and probably became identified with ornamental turrets which 
already existed in Chinese architecture, and assumed the shape and 
appearance of a tower. To the expert eye the various constituent parts 
remain recognizable, but their proportions have changed completely. 
When Chinese Buddhism spread in Japan in the sixth and seventh 
centuries it brought with it a large number of artistic and architectural 
motifs, including the pagoda. But while in China the usual building 
materials were stone and mortar, in Japan all building was done in 
wood. This difference in materials, as so often happens, led to further 

1 Incidentally they are In an enclosure which has four gateways, called terms; It is these which 
the many authors who attribute an Indian origin to torii have in mind. 



BUDDHA AND BEAUTY AT MOUNT MUE5 


167 


aesthetic development. The whole outline was marvellously lightened 9 
the tower became a kind of stalk sustaining a fugue of harmoniously 
curved roofs. I think it can be claimed without much fear of error that 
the Japanese pagoda is among the most beautiful structures made by 
man (Photographs 85. 91). 

From the esoteric point of view the Japanese pagoda is a reliquary; 
the sacred relic is said to be placed in a hollowed-out, cup-shaped stone 
under the central column which supports the whole. Both ritually and 
aesthetically the metal pinnacle (sorinto) in which the topmost roof 
mounts towards the sky is most important. Generally there are nine 
wheels (sarin ), then a flame in which angelic essences dance, surmounted 
by two globes, ‘the dragon’s car’ and the ‘precious pearl’. The pinnacle 
at the Mur5-ji is unique in that it ends in a circular canopy and a phial 
of ambrosia (hobyo); in this it perhaps recalls archaic types of stupa , 1 

Another type of pagoda sometimes found in Japan is smaller, 
lighter, has two roofs instead of five, is of somewhat later construction 
(eleventh century), and is called tahdto ('pagoda of many treasures’). 
Here too the Chinese model has been profoundly modified. The ex- 
treme, almost frivolous, gracefulness of the roof reminds you of a huge 
butterfly that has settled in the middle of a wood, ready at any moment 
to resume its capricious flight. 


Landscape and Frame 

About fifteen miles nearer Nara there is another celebrated temple, 
that of Hase, which occurs so often in literature and the arts. It is one 
of the thirty-three temples dedicated to Kwannon, and one of th6 
principal Japanese Buddhist places of pilgrimage. 

Here too nature and the work of man are in delightful harmony. 
The principal temple, reached by a long, covered, ascending approach 
(Photograph 48), is sited half-way up a mountain, on a great terrace 
from which there is a memorable view; sacred plays are performed 
there from time to time. By a strange configuration of the landscape, 
you seem to be standing in the middle of a crater from which there is 
no way out; there are steep wooded slopes all round; the timber is 
never cut, and the forest stands in all its pristine virginity. The horizon 

1 G. Tuca, fadb-Tfltffca, Rome, imi. VoL l p. 47. 



168 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

is limited, for nothing but sky can be seen over the crest of the 
surrounding hills, but the situation is magnificent. The Japanese do not 
like vast, unlimited panoramas; the view from the Hase temple is a 
perfect example of their taste. Its wide sweep is immediately evident, 
but it is contained in a frame. 

The place is undeniably magnificent, though it lacks the subtle, 
mythological fascination of the Mur5-ji. As it is less difficult of access, 
there are many more pilgrims, and many foreign visitors come; there is 
actually almost a tourist air about the place, which one tries to forget, 
thinking of May here, when the famous peonies are in bloom. The 
temple, though originally founded in the eighth century, dates back 
barely to 1650; as so often happens in Japan, the various pavilions have 
several times been destroyed by fire. The pagoda was burned down in 
1883; the new one, painted red and lacquered like a piece of furniture, 
frankly spoils a beautiful corner in the wooded landscape. 

Inside the temple there is a statue of Kwannon, thirty-six feet high, 
made of camphor wood. To see it you enter a narrow corridor at its 
feet, from where, because of the distorting effect of the perspective, it 
seems monstrously tall. It is barely lit by vague gleams of light, and is 
complicated, heavy, and soulless. I noticed that it differed in many 
respects from the usual representations of Kwannon, and the priest 
explained that it was a composite representation of Kwannon, Jiz 5 , and 
Amida — ‘he thus sums up in his person the present, the past, and the 
future*. Less celebrated, but much more beautiful, are the thirty-three 
pictures of Kwannon painted on wooden tablets surrounding the 
plinth. In the ambulatory behind I noticed many statues of slight 
interest. One, decadent though it is from the artistic point of view, is 
a rarity from the point of view of iconography; it is of Inari, the Shinto 
god of oats and of generation, represented as an aged sage, bent under 
the weight of two sheafs of rice. Representations of Shinto deities are 
rare, and it was curious to find one here, in a famous Buddhist temple. 
But in reality there was no cause for surprise. Up to the reforms of 1872 
all temples were also shrines, and some of them still are. Sure enough, 
here, immediately outside the principal temple, we found a little Shinto 
shrine, with the typical roof of rafters protruding in the shape of a 
St. Andrew’s Cross (chigi). 

For the student of the popular religion the Hase temple offers 



BUDDHA AND BEAUTY AT MOUNT MURO 


169 


inexhaustible material. There are, for instance, many of the crude little 
rustic pictures called ema (‘painted horses'). The horse is a very common 
symbol in Japan, signifying success, or the attainment of a desire . 1 But 
for a very long time indeed the ema artists have painted all sorts Of other 
things besides horses. These rough and amusing examples of popular 
art are sometimes pictorial prayers, sometimes expressions of gratitude 
for the granting of a prayer. 

While my Japanese friends were explaining a typical play on words 
to me, I noticed an obviously American woman, accompanied by an 
extremely smartly dressed Japanese; his hair was plastered down, he 
wore an elegant white suit, and his shoes were as shiny as blackbeetles; 
the couple were having trouble with a camera, and I went to their 
assistance. The woman was obviously immensely curious about the 
temole, the statues, the local customs, everything, and the conversation 
continued; my Japanese friends assisted in providing information. 
Meanwhile the smart Japanese looked on with an expression of blank 
indifference; we must obviously be artists, good-for-nothings, to take 
so much interest in a lot of old stuff about which he knew and cared 
nothing. 

The woman was on holiday at Nara from her work in an American 
office in Tokyo; the man was a ni-sei, a 'second generation’ Japanese- 
American; he worked in Jane’s office, and was acting as her interpreter 
and guide; his name was John. 

It is difficult to imagine any human being from whom a European 
feels more remote than a ni-sei. Europeans and Japanese, if they succeed 
in reaching below the surface, get on very well indeed; in spite of their 
profound differences, they are both products of ancient and complex 
civilizations. Europeans and Americans, superficially separated in a 
different way, have a thousand ways of establishing links because of 
their common roots. But between European and ni-sei there is not one 
abyss, but two; it is like trying to establish contact with a man from 
Mars. The ni-sei has generally been taught to despise his Asian roots; on 
the other hand, all he has taken from the west is a two-dimensional 
duralumin Christianity, ultra-modernism, the cultivation of jazz as 
a sacred rite, a Californian veneer. 

1 The same is true in China and Tibet In th^ Utter flags called hmg-ta ('wind-hones*) are flown 
from houses to bring good fortune. For ema see F. Staul, Ema, Tokyo, 1920. 



170 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Walking back to the entrance to the temple I noticed a huge, 
luxurious, shiny, green and yellow car which put our ancient, dusty 
Chevrolet to shame. John got into the driving-seat with Jane beside him, 
and they said good-bye, not without a look of triumphant commisera- 
tion on his part when he compared our respective vehicles. We all set 
off for Nara, but soon all that was left of Jane and her companion was 
a cloud of dust disappearing round a corner. 




6 

Encounters at Nara 


Girl Who Died for Love 

W e reaches Nara as night fell. It lies on the side of a gently sloping 
valley, surrounded by low hills, and spreads out towards the only 
mountain in the neighbourhood, the Kasuga (i,6jo feet), where the 
sacred forest has grown undisturbed since the beginning of time, con- 
cealing whispers of gods and the howling of foxes. Nara is a town of 
about a hundred thousand inhabitants, and lives on tourists and pil- 
grims; famous temples, pagodas, and ancient shrines are scattered about 
a huge park, in which tame deer roam freely. 

After the war Nara became an allied rest and recreation centre. 
We had to pass a whole row of monstrous twentieth-century temples, 
where in the evening strumpets entertained the honest sons of New 
England and the Middle West among horrible coloured neon lighting 
and rasping loudspeakers. All over Japan these places are run up 
incredibly cheaply, using wood and plaster-board, in a style calculated 
to delight connoisseurs of the hideous. Strange memories of Chicago 
mingle with ecclesiastical Baroque, ancient Egypt rubs shoulders with 
India, 'modernism* is adorned with dragons and pagodas, Hieronymus 
Bosch looks askance at Le Corbusier, Eiffel shakes hands with Palladio, 
wooden huts are disguised to look like palaces. I noticed a place called 
the Furorida (Florida) and another called San Furancisco (San Fran- 
cisco). At Sapporo at one time there were three places in a row called 
Binasu (Venus), Benisu (Venice), .and Pinatsu (Pea-nuts), an epitome 
of the glamorous west. The sign 'Beer and Girls’ was ubiquitous, and 

171 




172 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

often the additional information was supplied that ‘this place is excep- 
tionally clean*. Here and there signs were exhibited saying ‘Off Limits’ 
(American) or ‘Out of Bounds’ (English). 

After passing through this horror zone we were stopped by a crowd 
of people in the principal street. What was it? Nothing, only a little 
matsuri, a procession. We got out of the car, and mingled with the crowd. 
Groups of priests passed, clothed in red and violet silk robes; there were 
palanquins, trophies of grass and leaves, and some lovely girls dressed 
in ancient fashion, wearing twelve thin kimonos one over the other and 
big white veils over their heads; and there was an accompaniment of 
melancholy music, as thin as the breath of dawn. People watched in 
reverent silence; mothers lifted their children to enable them to see; an 
American soldier, accompanied by his powdered and painted pam-pam, 
mounted a step to take a photograph. What was it all about? On such 
occasions Sachiko, my Japanese friend’s wife, is extraordinary; she 
knows nothing of the shyness (hazukashisa) which Japanese normally feel 
about approaching strangers or pushing themselves forward. She went 
up to the most important of the priests, stopped him, questioned him, 
and took down his replies in her note-book, holding up the whole 
procession. 

‘Many centuries ago,* she subsequently explained to me, ‘great 
Emperor in love with very beautiful uneme . Uneme is palace lady. She very 
happy, glad, love her master. Everybody love. Then Emperor’s heart 
change, no longer love uneme. She desperate, throw herself in lake. She 
hang kimono on branch, walk naked into lake. Poor little unemel Many 
years later priest pass, praying. What happen? He see white spirit uneme , 
ask him to say prayers, read o-kyo [sacred texts] to free her from bad 
punishment. Understand?’ 

So every year at the autumn equinox this procession is held to 
comfort the spirit of a girl who died for love. Priests in violet robes, girls 
in white veils, children covered in flowers, march through the town and 
round the lake, stop at the willow-tree, sing hymns, say prayers, and 
sound the sho on the evening of the September full moon, which the 
Japanese hold to be the most beautiful of the year. While Sachiko was 
explaining all this to me, the last of the children covered in little red 
flowers brought up the rear of the procession. One of them was sulking; 
apparently he had no desire to console the unknown uneme, or perhaps 



ENCOUNTERS AT NAEA 


173 


he only wanted a sweet Men and boys got on their bicycles and rode 
away. The American with his pam-pam came over to me and said: 'Hey, 
what the hell was all that masquerade about?’ 

Encounters, Old and New 

The first Japanese encounter with the west took place about 1540 with 
the arrival of a party of Portuguese led by Mendes Pinto, and caused the 
greatest possible satisfaction on both sides. The Japanese learnt the art, 
first of firing arquebuses, and then of making them, and they called this 
new weapon tane-gashima, after the small island of Tane, where the first 
fateful disembarkation of nanban-jin (southern barbarians), with their 
fair skins and red beards, took place. The Portuguese were delighted 
witl the Japanese in every way, and unexpected vistas of expansion and 
trade opened up before them. 

A Japanese document of the time says: 

The foreign merchants . . . had one article in their possession 
which was about two or three shaku in length. It was straight, heavy, 
and hollow. One end, however, was closed, and near it there was 
a small hole, through which fire was to be lighted. The article was 
used in this way: some mysterious medicine was put into it with 
a small round piece of lead, and when one lit the medicine through 
that hole, the lead piece was discharged and hit everything. When 
it was discharged, light like lightning was seen and noise like 
thunder was heard, so that bystanders invariably closed their ears 
with their hands .’ 1 

The author goes on to describe how his father bought two tane - 
gashima from the southern barbarians and spent a long time trying to 
manufacture them himself. Not till a year later, when the foreigners 
returned with a blacksmith, did he learn the art of 'closing one end of 
the tube’, which had hitherto been an insuperable technical obstacle. 
After that the Japanese manufactured about seventy arquebuses on 
their own in a year. 

» Dahyuji Fuimrua. Nmpe-Bumkk (end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth 
century), quoted by J. Murdoch, A History of Japan, Vol. Up. 41. 



174 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Meanwhile the Portuguese were enthusiastic about the island 
'which has recently been discovered in that part of the north called 
Japan’. St. Francis Xavier, before leaving Malacca, wrote in 1548 that 'the 
Japanese are extremely desirous of being instructed, which our gentiles 



For two and a half centuries Japan was closed to the outside world. Apart from a few 
Dutch traders allowed to live in semi-imprisonment on the little island of Deshima 
(Nagasaki), the only foreigners with whom the Japanese had contact were the 
aborigines of the northern islands. Here is a Sakhalin fisherman as seen by the 

explorer Mamiya RinzS 
(From Kita Exo Taaetsu, Tokyo, 1894) 

in India by no means are’. A year later he wrote from Japan itself that 
these people 'are the best that have so far been discovered, and no 
better could be found among the infidels '. 1 

Then the Spaniards came, and the rivalry between them and the 

1 P. Taccri-Vintuii, It Carmtrt tkt Giqpmi, pp. 15, 19, 29. 



ENCOUNTERS AT NARA 


173 


Portuguese struck the spark which caused the Japanese to decide to 
expel all Christians and foreigners from their islands. In 1596 the captain 
of a Spanish galleon had his cargo confiscated by a Japanese baron; to 
extricate himself from a difficult position he produced a map of the 
world and started boasting about the vast dominions of his master, 
Philip II. When the Japanese asked him how a single king had succeeded 
in dominating so many foreign nations, he replied that he started by 
sending missionaries to the territories to be conquered; when a large 
number of converts had been made he landed troops who, with the aid 
of the converts, forcibly brought about a change of government. When 
this was reported to the taiko Hideyoshi, the man with the iron fist who 
had recently succeeded in unifying Japan for the first time in centuries, 
he exploded with wrath against the 'snakes whom he had nurtured to 
his josom'; and *hus the spark was struck which led to the terrible 
persecution of Christians and foreigners which lasted for thirty years 
and ended by almost completely extinguishing the influence of the 
outside world on Japan. From the beginning of the seventeenth century 
to the visit of Commodore Perry with his ‘black ships’ in 1854 Japan 
remained in a state of isolation. 

Throughout this long period, from 1600 to 1854, a single slender 
thread connected Japan with the outside world, and this was entrusted 
to the Dutch. The rulers of Japan were extremely suspicious of any 
western contacts which might involve them with priests; and it was 
only with the greatest difficulty that Protestant countries ever obtained 
permission to land. After a period of indecision, the Dutch, who ap- 
peared to the Japanese to be the quietest and least dangerous, were 
granted permission to send one ship a year from China to Kyushu. 
Their representatives were, however, confined to the small island of 
Deshima, where they lived at their trading station rather like prisoners. 
Once a year the head of the mission, the Operhoofd , was permitted to 
travel to Yedo (Tokyo) and pay ceremonial homage to the shogun . 1 

This restricted observation post was, however, used by a number 
of Europeans of great industry and intelligence (Kaempfer, Thunberg, 
P. F. von Siebold, and others) to form a complete picture of Japanese 
life and civilization; and similarly a few adventurous-minded Japanese 

• St* C R. BomJ« Cmpqde tojepm. mt-am. The Hague. iw>; and G. B. Sum, It, 
Wmldmdjepmt, London, 19*0. 



176 * MEETING WITH JAPAN 

(Arai Hakuseki, Honda Toshiaki) used it, particularly from the end of 
the eighteenth century onwards, to learn something about the mys- 
terious outside world. A new branch of knowledge actually grew up, 
known as ran-gaku (ran being Oranda, Holland, and gaku being the equiva- 
lent of our ‘-ology’ — ‘Hollandology’, in other words). But I have men- 
tioned all this history only in order to introduce certain ideas. Let us 
return to the 'encouriters I have observed in several years of direct 
experience. 

First of all the British. Japan and Britain have many things in com- 
mon. Both are islands on the edge of huge oceans, both have civiliza- 
tions with a strong individual imprint resulting from the integration 
of originally diverse elements (German-Latin, Yamato-Chinese); both 
have been strongly centralized for centuries, and historically both have 
had a decidedly aristocratic social structure. The British-Japanese en- 
counter has consequently been characterized by mutual esteem rather 
than warmth. Each of the two peoples likes form, ceremony, self- 
control; these characteristics lead to respect for the individuality of 
the other rather than to close contact. The Anglo-Japanese alliance 
(1902-21), the longest of modern times, was more than a mere political 
agreement, though in Japan its influence was restricted to the nobility 
and the upper bourgeoisie. It is still possible from time to time to meet 
aristocratic old Japanese gentlemen who were educated at Oxford, dress 
like country gentlemen, play golf, and tell dry, humorous stories about 
the hunting field over a whisky-and-soda in front of the fire after dinner. 

The Anglo-Japanese encounter yielded lasting results, however, 
in the field of scholarship. Our deep and thorough knowledge of 
Japanese is in great part due to the British. The first generation of 
Japanese scholars, the generation of Satow, Chamberlain, Aston, 
Murdoch, Eliot, Munro, was succeeded by a second, less numerous 
perhaps, but equally well, if not better, equipped, that of Ponsonby- 
Fane, Sansom, Waley. The British compiled the first dictionaries, trans- 
lated the classics, wrote the most exhaustive histories based on Japanese, 
Chinese, and western sources. 

Thus the Anglo-Japanese encounter has been on a high qualitative 
level. This, in a sense, is true of the German-Japanese encounter. Here 
too for many years contact was maintained on a somewhat cold, official 
level, that of deep bows and high-sounding speeches. In the field of 












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ENCOUNTERS AT NA»\ 177 

scholarship, contact was exceedingly fertile; it insufficient to recall the 
names of K. Florentarand H. Bohner. 

There is, however, another, subterranean, level at which Japanese 
and German hearts easily beat in unison— that at which there is an 
obscure, imperious need to live in a spirit of heroic self-dedication to 
something or somebody. At this level one would seek in vain die happy 
equilibrium which distinguishes the Chinese in so many ways; instead 
there is a hankering for the terrible which borders on the tragic and 
sometimes descends to the ridiculous, a state of mind which feels 
strongly the attractions of the violent and the obscene. The German 
influence in Japan has been much deeper and more widespread than 
the British but, except in the field of medicine, less beneficial. The 
universities, the army, certain public services, have Prussian roots of 
e: ’raordinary tenacity. The mournful black uniform worn by students 
comes within this order of influences. 

If Anglo-Japanese accord seems possible only at a high social and 
intellectual levels I should say that German-Japanese accord is easier 
at all levels; I have the impression that the bnly mixed marriages that 
have any chance of success are Japanese-German. Iri Japan Doitsu 
(Germany) always has a serious connotation. Igirisu (England) evokes in 
the mind of a well-disposed Japanese the picture Af a nice, elderly, 
sporting uncle who climbs the highest mountains in the world, invites 
you to tea and cakes and raspberries and cream, is not a'geniu?, but is so 
honest and reliable; Doitsu, on the other hand, suggests a cousin whom 
.you do not know whether .or nof to admire, but with whom you are 
linked by certain nocturnal adventures and a taste for certain forbidden 
things. When your German cousin is about, you know that something 
is going to happen. 

The most satisfactory, the happiest, the most natural of these 
encounters is the Franco-Japan^se. Here too contacj has always been at 
a high level, a high intellectual level in particular. The France concerned, 
is not the narrow world of the French provinces, of the peflty bourgeoisie, 
but that of the littirateurs, the artists, and the savants. At this level France 
and Japan are two exquisitely pagan 'and sophisticated countries, made 
to understand each other. The Japanese like Freuclj taste, its caprice, its 
fashions, its deep, unpedantic humanism, -the tinge of frivolity which 
serves the better to conceal the flame within. The French like .the 

M 



178 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

aesthetic sense which pervades the whole of Japanese life; as soon as they 
set foot in a Japanese house, fall in love with a Japanese woman, read 
a Japanese poem or piece of good prose, they discover a new, real, and 
entirely unexpected France among a thousand possible and conceivable 
Frances. I should say, in fact, that French and Japanese approach each 
other with the fewest mental reservations, the most open mutual 
humanity; that is why they achieve understanding. 

The French is the only European influence which is not restricted 
to the world of culture, arts, and letters but has spread into everyday 
life. It is sufficient to take a stroll along the Ginza in Tokyo and note the 
signs outside the hundreds of places where one can drink beer, sate, or 
whisky in company with a joiyu-san (‘honourable waitress*) — the modern 
version of the geisha — to see how strong is the desire to seem in some 
way Parisian. Often, it is true, the Paris that is the object of emulation 
never was in heaven or on earth; you have only to look at the places 
called the Papirion (Le Papillon), the Ramu (1* Amour), the Toaemud 
(Toi et Moi), the Kokkudoru (Le Coq d'Or), the Rameru (La Mer), 
and other fantastic results of the nichi-jksu (Franco-Japanese) axis. 
A. Smoular, a careful observer of Japanese life, says that he was never 
able to overcome his surprise at the fashion in which one of these girls 
of easy virtue who mix up-to-date (and often exceedingly bad) drinks 
with the gestures of an ancient courtesan 'made sensitive and intelligent 
comments on Matisse or other French painters'. Perhaps he exaggerates, 
but at any rate it is not far from the truth. 

The Japanese language has adopted not only innumerable English 
terms, but many French ones too. The disorder and indiscipline of the 
post-war period, for instance, are referred to as apuri (apris guerre); abeku 
(avec) has an endless variety of uses— it can mean lover, mistress, 
friend, geisha, and is used as noun, adjective, or interjection. The lan- 
guage of artists is full of words such as atone (atilier), amachua (amateur), 
modem (modile), anbru (encore), dessan (dessein), and others of the kind. 

Finally, there is the encounter which from many points of view is the 
most important of all, the Japanese-American. This is the only one 
which has taken place on a mass scale. It is estimated that since the end 
of the war at least a million Americans have spent at any rate some time 
in Japan. As we have already mentioned, the occupation began under 
rosy auspices; but relations deteriorated, and ended by being bad. That 



ENCOUNTERS AT NARA 


179 


is a chapter of contemporary history; here I propose to confine myself 
to a more humble plane. 

Apart from the fact that Japanese-American relations were those 
between victor and vanquished, which always makes understanding 
difficult, there are many reasons why even in the most favourable 
circumstances the Japanese-American encounter would tend to be only 
moderately successful. 1 On the one hand we have America, a country 
of Puritan traditions, of straightforward, practical men without a true 
and constant interest in the arts and the things of the mind, always 
ready to cut the Gordian knot; on the other we have Japan, whose 
people are as pagan as ancient Mediterranean man, always tending to 
argue in terms of kimochi (states of mind), dominated by what may be 
called baai,yosu, arisama t jokyo,jij5, mcyd, jotai, jdsei, jitai, and a hundred other 
th'gs, but merely mean circumstances; an extremely complicated 
people, full or ancient fears and new ambitions, extremely sensitive to 
all forms of beauty, intellectual values, emotional claims, always ready, 
when confronted with a Gordian knot, not to cut it, but to tie another, 
bigger one all round it and thus put it out of sight. We are, in fact, con- 
fronted with two attitudes to life, two interior universes, which differ so 
profoundly that it is hard to think that a greater contrast could be 
possible. 

Apart from some rare exceptions, then, the Japanese-American 
encounter is on the whole unsuccessful. It is sufficient to look at the 
results; 1 do not mean in the political field, but in everyday life. Ameri- 
canized Japanese, with the exceptions of a few examples of intellectual 
distinction who would shine anywhere, are incredibly crude, vulgar, 
ignorant, and presumptuous. They have thrown their own civilization 
overboard, and all they have taken over from the new is a superficial 
indifference to everything, an arrogance that they mistake for cordiality, 
a shameless interest in money. The women in particular are unrecog- 
nizable. They have not a trace left of the traditional Japanese charm, 
and yet they are not within a thousand miles of the genuine American 
camaraderie; they are nothing but little savages taking delight in their 
own iconoclastic fury, hitting out to right and left, both physically and 
verbally. 

1 Except the specUl case of American man and Japanese woman which we have already 



180 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

All that most Americans seekin Japan is exotic knick-knacks, embroi- 
dered dragons, ivory dolls, painted wooden pagodas. Only rarely do 
they immerse themselves in Japanese life; they prefer to remain among 
themselves, thus inevitably encouraging the creation all round them of 
an area of contamination in which the most atrocious squalor and 
vulgarity prevail. What is more, all the most strikingly pagan aspects of 
Japanese life, those that in the natural context of Japanese society have 
their well-defined place, are changed, displaced, distorted, and, seen 
through Puritan eyes, turn into irremediable evil. This sense of evil then 
spreads to the Japanese, who turn into thieves, pimps, rogues, black- 
mailers; these once existed only in limited numbers in the lowest quar- 
ters, but have now in many towns spread and multiplied sufficiently to 
be a matter of serious concern to the authorities. 

It certainly should not be overlooked that, apart from this contact 
at the mass level, there is contact of another kind, a contact of quality. 
In America the world of culture is, of course, highly specialized and, 
though it may frequently exercise an influence on public affairs, it is 
a long way from the ordinary life of the majority. Entering an American 
university is like entering a marvellous oasis from which the hustle and 
greed for gain which prevail outside are permanently excluded; here 
indeed is the realm of knowledge, of huge libraries, of scholars on whom 
society lavishes privileges so that they may continue with their work 
undisturbed. This environment produced what from one point of view 
is one of the most remarkable books of our time: Ruth Benedict’s The 
Chrysanthemum and the Sword . 1 During the war the American leaders decided 
that it was necessary to know more about the exotic enemy with whom 
they were at grips; and, because of her distinction as an anthropologist, 
Ruth Benedict was commissioned to write an interpretation of the 
Japanese character and attitude to life which would serve as a guide in 
the formation of American policy. The remarkable feature of all this 
was that Miss Benedict had never set foot in Japan. Nevertheless, by 
fitting together bits and pieces, by skilful inference and deduction, she 
wrote a book which, being the product of the laboratory, so to speak, 
necessarily fails to give the flavour of the country and the people, but 
provides one of the best interpretations yet made of a world so different 
from that of the west. It was largely due to Miss Benedict that the 



ENCOUNTERS AT NARA Iftl 

American Government made the wise decision not to remove the 
Emperor in the event of victory, realizing that the Japanese would never 
hold him responsible for defeat, and that he provided the only possible 
rallying point round whom it would be possible to begin a peaceable 
reconstruction of the country. The Japanese themselves attach im- 
portance to Miss Benedict’s work, and some years ago devoted to it 
a special number of the Japanese Review of Ethnology . 1 

The Japanese certainly know little about Italy, and what they know 
tends to come to them through writers of other countries— at best 
Goethe, Stendhal, or Aldous Huxley. I recall the celebrated remark of 
the member of the Japanese Diet who, on seeing the Claudian aqueduct 
in Rome, said that post-war reconstruction did not seem to have got 
very far yet. 

in conclusion. 1 should like to mention a recent investigation by 
Unesco into what young people in Japan think of other countries . 1 The 
results were interesting, and demonstrated a knowledge that was far 
from superficial. The United States came first for science and industrial 
technique, followed by Germany and the Soviet Union; France came 
first in the category of intellectual values, followed by Britain; Switzer- 
land came first for political development, while Denmark reigned 
supreme and almost unchallenged for economic development. For 
spiritual values the palm went to Britain. Italy was mentioned (last but 
one, after China) only by a few under the heading: Which country 
would you most like to visit’ In other words, the interest was purely 
touristic. 

Youthful Heyday 

Nara was the capital of Japan for only seventy-four years, from a.d. 710 
to 784, but something of that brief halcyon period still survives in the 
atmosphere today. Present-day Nara, a town of 100,000 inhabitants, is 
small in comparison with the capital founded by the Empress Gemmyd. 
The Japanese, having decided that it was impossible to continue the 
system of changing the capital on the death of every emperor, went 
about things in a big way. Peasants of the villages to the west of the 

1 Mba&psb Kenfyti ZaaU, Vol XIV (ittf). o. 4. 

• I. Stoitzbl, Jnatstt mn OrysantMm ni Sabre, Parti, 1954. 



182 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

present town still turn up with their ploughs stones which were the 
foundations of ancient palaces or long-since-vanished temples. A wide 
and impressive avenue more than three miles long called the Sujaku- 
oji, the ‘Avenue of the Red Peacock’, sloped away from the Imperial 
Palace. At the other end there was a big gate, the Rajomon. Four parallel 
main roads lay on either side of this main artery, traversed at right- 
angles by ten other roads; these too were more than three miles long. 
Such was the design of a city rare in the world at that time; it was built 
in emulation of the most splendid capital of the age, Ch’ang-an, the 
residence of the Chinese emperors, the successors of T’ai-tsung (d. a.d. 
649), the Charlemagne of the east. 

The broad, straight streets of ancient Nara were flanked by houses 
and temples, monasteries and pagodas, villas and gardens. The reader 
should not think in terms of the massive town houses of the west, which 
in the last resort derive from the fortified houses of the Middle Ages. To 
judge from certain temple districts, which still preserve the ancient order 
of things, the streets were flanked not by houses, but by low, earth walls 
(dobei), interrupted at intervals by gateways the impressiveness of which 
varied with the importance of the owner of the villa to which it pro- 
vided access. Over the wall the curved roof could be made out among 
the trees. 

In the more popular quarters were the markets, where the going 
and coming of servants and slaves (who at that time were very nu- 
merous) must have created a colourful tumult. There were many 
artisans at Nara, often of Korean or Chinese origin, producing objects 
of beauty for the wealthy families and the temples. The embellishment 
of the capital continued uninterruptedly for several decades. 

Like a splendid corolla 
In flower 

Nara blooms in splendour, 

The capital. 

So wrote Ono no Oyu. 1 This was, incidentally, a flourishing age 
throughout Asia. In comparison Europe lay in the depths of barbarism. 
Apart from some gleams of civilization in Italy, at the court of the last 
Merovingians and first Carolingians in France, and in the Irish mon- 

MmyOdrn, IQ, 328 



ENCOUNTERS AT NARA 1S3 

asteries, Europe lay asleep, like a field that has yielded a tremendous 
harvest and is nursing in its vitals the germs of another, still distant, 
summer. But in Asia it was full daylight; great empires flourished, and 
the most populous and civilized of the world*s capitals. Baghdad, for 
instance, was taking over the Greek heritage, and Ch*ang-an was the 
head and heart of the world's greatest country, China. 

Asia was very different from the Asia of the present day, even in the 
physical respect. The centre of the continent had not yet become a 
desert. Trade routes connected east and west. Along these there were 
brought to the west such things as silk, paper, tea, porcelain, playing 
cards, gunpowder, spinach, sugar, dice, chess-men, the chicken, and 
perhaps macaroni; and to the east the grape, carrots, glass, and the 
alphabet. There was also a continual two-way traffic of ideas, religious 
beliefs, artistic ideas. Nestorian Christianity and Islam penetrated to 
Cnina along tl* routes, and, above all, Buddhism, an Indian doctrine 
which brought with it an art which was to a great extent Greco-Roman. 
In many of the cities along these routes Indo-European languages were 
spoken which have since disappeared, Tokharic, for example, and there 
were flourishing communities of Manichaeans, Christians, and Muslims. 
Their arts, investigated by Stein, Pelliot, Von le Coq, Hackin, reveal 
every possible combination and synthesis of elements generally con- 
sidered remote from one another. Thus we find Buddhas which are in 
reality somewhat Asianized Apollos, Silenuses who have become yaksha , 
and the features of Pegasus, Jupiter, Hercules, Pallas Athene, variously 
transformed into Bodhisattvas, genii, Buddhist angels and saints. Greco- 
Roman and Sassanid motifs combine, and both fuse with other purely 
Indian motifs of the Gupta style . 1 

In other fields of culture a similar process of rapprochement, fusion, 
superposition, took place. We find Christian frescoes painted in the 
Persian style, and languages of the Chinese family written in Indian 
characters; and two Manichaean canonical books — the Manichees pro- 
fessed a doctrine which was in part Christian, our knowledge of which 
is gained principally through St. Augustine— were included in the 
Chinese Taoist scriptures, having evidently travelled right across the 
continent. In what is now Afghanistan money has been found which 

1 R. Gkoosmt, Let CMUmim A I'M. Farts, 1930, particularly VoLm (CM Also his Mss 4 v 
'HiOoin, Farts, 194*. p. ns. 



184 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

was coined by the Ytieh-chih, a people probably of Indo-European 
origin, who were driven out of the Chinese borderlands in the second 
century b.c.; these coins have engravings in Greek style of Indian gods, 
as well as portraits of Caesar Augustus and the Buddha. Finally, at the 
Turfan oasis, there have been discovered Buddhist books with Sanskrit 
notes, the pages numbered in Chinese, annotated in characters of Syriac 
origin in a Turkish language, Uigur . 1 

The cosmopolitan character of upper Asia still survived in the time 
of Marco Polo, the end of the thirteenth century. Carter observes that 
Kublai Khan’s reply to Innocent IV in 1245, ’written in the Persian and 
Uigur languages, sealed with a Mongol seal of Chinese style that had 
been cut by a Russian seal cutter and sent by the hand of an Italian 
monk to the Pope’, was typical; as typical as the case of Yahb-allaha III, 
a Christian of Turkish origin born in north China who was appointed 
Patriarch of the Nestorian Church, whose seat was in Baghdad (1281-1317). 
Not till after the final Muslim conquests in Central Asia and the con- 
version of the Turks to the religion of Allah was the land route between 
east and west finally cut. 

When, after four centuries of wars, divisions, and spiritual travail, 
China was finally united under Kao-tsu, the founder of the T’ang 
dynasty (618-907), all the cultural elements that had made their way 
across Asia from Greece, Persia, and India were fused into a new unity, 
and a long period of peace and prosperity and splendour began which 
marked the zenith of the history of the Celestial Empire. There is no 
doubt that the China of the T’ang dynasty was the most powerful, best 
administered, most civilized state in the world at that time. 

The monks, merchants, and scholars from the Yamato country, 
who from the sixth century onwards visited China in increasing num- 
bers, must have been left breathless by what they saw. In Japan life still 
went on timelessly, to the slow rhythm of the natural development of 
tribal institutions; here they found themselves in a vast metropolis, in 
the streets of which it was possible to meet Indian Buddhist monks, 
envoys from the kingdoms of Central Asia, from Samarkand, from 
Persia; merchants from Tongking, Annam; Siberian nomadic tribal 
chiefs; strange men with red beards and blue eyes from the territories 

T. F. Caitml, Tk hmrioii ofPrimbq (a CMm and to Spnad Westwards, New York, 1929, reviaed edition. 



ENCOUNTERS AT NAEA 


its 

of distant Fu-lin or An-tun (Constantinople or Rome; Rem, Rum. 
Hrim, Hu-run, Fu-lin; An-tun from the Antonines), to say nothing of 
students and priests from Korea, Tung uses covered with furs, Tibetans 
with their yaks, Arabs with their camels. 

Ch’ang-an was not only^great, but was also learned and beautiful. 
Buddhist temples stood side by side with Nestorian and Manichaean 
churches, Zoroaster was worshipped, the doctrine of Mahomet was 
preached, and the Confucian classics were commented on. In Japan 
a few old men knew by heart the interminable genealogies of gods and 
emperors, but here writing and paper (paper was not to reach the west 
until the end of the tenth century) had been known for centuries, and 
there were whole libraries full of knowledge. In Japan the haniwa (clay 
tubes) testified to latent artistic ability, but what were they in com- 
parison with the paintings and sculpture to be seen here? Japan did not 
possess even a pioperly organized central administration; the supre- 
macy of the Yamato rulers was widely recognized, but in the provinces 
the heads of big families ruled more or less at their pleasure in a kind of 
loose, primitive feudalism. Moreover, more than half of the biggest 
island was still dominated by the ebisu, the savage ancestors of the Ainu, 
who ‘gathered like ants to attack, but scattered like birds as soon as you 
faced them’. 

The Japanese, with that extraordinary determination of character 
and assimilative ability that has distinguished them at other periods of 
their history, set about the task of wiping out in the shortest possible 
time their evident inferiority in relation to their great neighbour. 
Korean scribes are known to have been employed at the Japanese court 
from the beginning of the fifth century, and many Japanese must have 
started familiarizin g themselves with ideograms from then onwards. 
In 5J2 the first Buddhist preachers arrived, and the first Buddhist texts 
and statues. A few decades later Prince ShStoku carried out his memor- 
able civilizing work. Finally, in 6*j, the Emperor KOtoku reorganized the 
state on the Chinese model (the Taikwa reform, the so-called ‘great 
change’). Semi-tribal feudalism gave way to a centralized administration 
embodying the Chinese principle of ‘no land under heaven that does 
not belong to the sovereign’. Provincial governors took the place of the 
nearly independent local lords; a. new system of taxation was intro- 
duced, based on a census; and a bureaucracy was established of twenty- 



186 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

six grades and sub-grades, the members of which were distinguished by 
the different buttons and hats they wore. 

The culmination of the long process by which the Japanese emerged 
from the limbo of prehistory was the foundation, construction, and 
embellishment of an ambitious capital. After more than a thousand 
years, something of the perfume of that marvellous spring season still 
lingers in the air. The whole of Asia now lay open to the inhabitants of 
its last remote island outposts in the vast spaces of the Pacific. It was 
a cosmopolitan century; the Japanese forgot their narrow world, 
looked outside themselves, looked at humanity with the enthusiasm of 
adolescents, and wanted to try everything. 

Hence Nara testifies to a variety of motifs, styles, schools, influences, 
for which there is no parallel in Japanese history until the present age. 
So complex was the artistic production that the specialists have not yet 
agreed even on a uniform division into periods; they divide 200 years of 
artistic history into Asuka, Suiko, Hakuho, Tempyo, primitive Nara, 
late Nara periods, in the most hair-raising confusion. Besides the 
hieratic groups in bronze showing Buddha and the Bodhisattvas by 
Tori and his school, which recall the cave sculptures of Yun-kang in 
northern China, there are to be seen the subtly sensuous figures in the 
frescoes of the Horyu-ji (Temple of the Flourishing Law’), containing 
echoes of the Central Asian art which fused India and Greece. Besides 
the great Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Yakushi-ji (Temple of the 
Master of Medicine’), to which the centuries have given a rich dark 
patina — they obviously testify to the direct influence of Indian styles as 
interpreted by Chinese artists of the T’ang dynasty— there are the first 
truly Japanese sculptures, in which there is immediately evident a par- 
ticular purity of line, surface, and decoration, and a desire to see human- 
ity, flesh, and blood, even in the most abstract of deities. In general a tran- 
sition can be observed from mysticism and a Byzantine rigidity of form to 
a very definite humanism and realism. Nevertheless works contemporary 
in date show the simultaneous co-existence of the most varied trends. 


Drawing-room Temple 

I do not propose to confuse the reader with long lists of names; a guide 
to Nara would be out of place here, even apart from the fact that a 



ENCOUNTERS AT NA1A 


117 


number are already in existence. But I do not wish to leave for Kyoto 
without recalling at least some of the things which have a special place 
in Japanese history. 

Yesterday, for instance, we went to the Horyu-ji (‘Temple of the 
Flourishing Law’), which lies a few miles in the Osaka direction. It is one 
of the oldest surviving temples in Japan, and probably the oldest wooden 
building in the world. There are doubts about the exact date of its con- 
struction or reconstruction, but it seems that the most important part of 
it dates back to the end of the seventh century. Chinese ideas and models 
are evident in the arrangement of its pavilions, which are situated about 
a square cloister on a nearly flat piece of ground among vegetation and 
pine-trees. Later the native love of the unexpected and asvmmetrical 
became dominant among Japanese architects and artists, but here 
a ’<nity with Asia is manifested, and this monument belongs to the 
history of the continent as much as it does to Japan. It is beautifully 
situated, not in a romantic valley, like the Muro-ji, or in a secluded 
recess in the mountains like those in which many of the Kyoto temples 
arc concealed, but in the midst of an open, sunny countryside. The first 
impression is of peace and serenity; avenues, trees, the play of the 
curves of the roofs of the Chumon (‘Middle Gateway*), the Kaird 
(cloister), the Kon-do (‘Golden Hall*), the K5-do (‘Sermon Hall'), which 
is repeated up towards the sky in the five-storey pagoda like a musical 
motif announced and repeated by various groups of instruments in 
a fugue. Chinese-Japanese architecture is essentially an architecture of 
roofs, roofs like great heron's wings resting among the trees and on the 
hillsides. 

There are more than a hundred works of the highest value at the 
Horyu-ji. The big frescoes of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, which 
I have already mentioned, constituted one of the most remarkable 
works in all Asia; the voice of India, Persia, and Central Asia speaking 
directly and without any intermediary in this valley in an island at the 
end of the world. But, after surviving all the perils of the centuries, war, 
rebellion, earthquake, typhoons, ordinary bombs and atomic bombs, 
one day in 1949 some workmen engaged in restoration carelessly went 
away for some minutes leaving a pot boiling in the temple. Half an hour 
later a furious fire, which miraculously did not spread to the whole 
building and the whole Horyu-ji, had destroyed these precipus relics. 



188 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

The only consolation is that excellent photographs existed, so that the 
historical documentation was not completely destroyed. From the 
artistic point of view, one can only wring one’s hands; restoration, 
recently completed, was carried out with skill and respect, but what had 
vanished for ever could not be reproduced. 

Next to the Horyu-ji is a small convent inhabited by nuns; this is 
the Chugu-ji (Temple of the Middle Palace*), which contains the only 
other work which I wish to mention here; it is one of the greatest trea- 
sures of all times and places. While the Horyu-ji is big, majestic, mascu- 
line, this little temple and the convent attached to it are small, irregular, 
exquisitely feminine. We rang the bell at a little door, heard the sound 
of footsteps on the gravel, and the door was opened by a young nun, 
with shaved head, but uncommonly good-looking and elegant. When 
she saw me and my Japanese companions she was taken aback; she 
blushed, became confused, and left us. She must have been just passing, 
and must have opened the door by chance. Could she have been a 
princess who had taken the veil? She was succeeded by an Amazon of 



L+-- = . 

0 SO FEET 


View of the Horyu-ji (seventh-eighth century) 

(From Ota, Tanabe, Hattobi, Nippon no Kenchtitu ('Japanese Architecture'), 

Tokyo, 1953) 

about thirty, who unceremoniously told us that it was late, that the 
place was shut, that we should come back another time. She was about 
to shut the door when Sachiko, with many bows and smiles, implored 
her to wait a moment, and explained in rapid Japanese, full of sighs and 
nervous smiles, that we had come from afar, that we should never be 



ENCOUNTERS AT NAEA HE 

able to come hack, that (pointing to me) kochinhsama (*Mr. here’) Set 
great store before leaving Japan on setting eyes for a brief moment 
on the famous picture of the merciful Kwannon, etc., etc. She finally 
succeeded in softening the woman’s heart, and she let us in with a 
grunt. 

The inside of the little convent was kept so meticulously, so fabu- 
lously clean and tidy that everything, even the gravel in the courtyard, 
each individual stalk of the moss that always grows round the piles on 
which Japanese houses are built, seemed to be responding, not just to 
the external influence of broom, rake, and brush, but to an inner law, 
like that which regulates the arrangement of molecules in a crystal. The 
silence was total; our footsteps resounded like a cannonade; instinc- 
tively we walked on tip-toe. After passing through a number of rooms 
a i courtyards, w e reached an exquisitely elegant little temple in which 
you could have searched in vain with a microscope for a speck of dust 
or with rule and compass for the slightest irregularity in the arrange- 
ment of things. A gilded ray of the setting sun discreetly penetrated the 
thin paper of the shoji ; it gave the room the almost equivocal charm of 
an alcove. 

Indeed, it seemed a drawing-room more than a temple. The 
Amazon disappeared. We waited in silence, and looked about us. The 
altar was like a big tabernacle; the lacquered wooden doors opened over 
a silk veil of tenuous colours, between the folds of which one could 
guess the presence of a shape — a statue? a motionless person? — weakly 
illuminated by reflection only. In front of the altar were some miniature 
golden pagodas, a small table with flowers, candles, incense, a bell laid 
on a flat cushion, and other liturgical objects. In every detail you could 
discern the unforgiving eye of a woman of strong character and excel- 
lent taste. There were numerous fine fabrics, the colours of which 
provided a subdued harmony, not without an occasional flame-like 
note at the right point. The taste for embroidery common to the nuns 
of all religions was held in check; all that was to be seen was a few 
herons (the mythical hdo bird) over one of the stoles. 

To one side was the place reserved for the mother-superior: a small 
throne of lacquered wood, with a flat cushion. Next to it, I could have 
sworn, was a whole row of little bottles of perfume and lotions, and jars 
of cream. A second glance, however, showed that they were liturgical 



190 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

objects— a small bell, a small thunderbolt, volumes of the Buddhist 
scriptures bound in precious cloths, small cups for holy water, an 
incense-burner, and other minute, fragile objects of the same kind. 
Everything seemed set for a small, metaphysical, and slightly frivolous 
tea-party. 

We heard a rustle of robes, and the mother-superior appeared. She 
was thin, old, minute; her expression lacked the fire that I had expected. 
We exchanged greetings and apologies, and she listened benevolently 
to what Sachiko had to say. Then she left us to the pretty young nun 
who had opened the door and now appeared to have materialized out 
of nowhere in the silence of the place, which was somehow alive with 
prodigies. 

Armed with her superior’s instructions, her self-confidence re- 
turned. She led us barefoot towards the altar, lit an electric light dis- 
creetly placed inside the canopy, and revealed the masterpiece (plate 82). 

What artist in east or west, in ancient times or modern, has ever 
succeeded in representing divine solicitude in such trenchantly human 
terms with such purity of means? It is appropriate that the identity of 
the figure represented is uncertain. Some think that the artist intended 
to represent Miroku, Maitreya, the final incarnation of the Buddha, the 
outward form in which he will within three centuries in the fifth kalpa, 
the fifth of the world’s great ages, conduct to salvation, not only the 
whole of humanity, but all living beings, all the sem-chen, ‘those having 
minds’, as the Tibetans say, from ant to emperor, from whale to cat . 1 
Others, however, prefer to identify the figure as Kwannon, the essence 
of mercy and benevolence, the Bodhisattva who presides over the 
present kalpa, the fourth. There are also those who argue that it is 
Sakyamuni, the ascetic of the Sakyas, the historical Buddha, caught in 
the act of renouncing the world, who is represented here. 

It does not matter. The distinction between the various Buddhas is 
in any case purely empirical; ultimately the only final reality is the 
Buddha, the all, the soul of the universe. Leaving these subtleties aside, 
what is represented here in such sublime fashion is the key conception 
of northern Buddhism, that of the Bodhisattva, i.e., he who has seen, 

» 'He whose mind is Imbued with compassion for all sentient beings (itm-chen), that Is (the 
way of) salvation and divine wisdom.' Lu T&ub (Nagarjuna). Sht-rdb Dong-Bu (The Tree of 
Knowledge*), translated by W. J. Camtbell, Calcutta, 1919, p- •*. 



ENCOUNTERS AT NARA 


I* 


has understood, has attained enlightenment, but, not wishing to en)oy 
it only for himself, turns back his eyes from the invisible threshold to 
the vortex of becoming in which the living, blinded by desire, are still 
caught up, and remains with them. Whether we have to do here with 
Sakyamuni, Maitreya, or Kwannon, the concept is essentially the same. 
This, with the western doctrine of 

redemption, constitutes the highest \ 

peak attained by man in the face of U JHUJJJJI IIM* 0 ' JP* 1 
the mysteries of life, death, and ’ r|/ j/fWk 


Night of Typhoon _ jj j n f ^ 

Se\ ember is tlv* month of ty- jSSjL * 

phoons, and tonight a typhoon ? f* \ / raMrfu&ri| 
was in the offing; the wireless kept | jsSSwin 

reporting its progress. It announced i n 

an alert in the provinces of x&31 

Miyazaki and Kagoshima, far away, 

fortunately, at the southern end of Some of the fifteen typhoons of the 

the archipelago. The Americans summcr of 1954. Typhoon No. 13, 

_■ n K.irri which is mentioned in the text, left 
give girls names to their nurn- . _ , , , , . 

® & • , 1 . more than two thousand dead m its 

canes; no doubt the Chinese would wake . xhe ringed numerals indicate 

have given them high-sounding dates in the month of September 
dragons’ names; the Japanese 

merely give them numbers. That announced today was No. 15 , and 
was said to be a big one. Giorgio descended on us this evening with 
the suddenness of a typhoon. Half an hour later we were inevitably in 


an expensive Japanese restaurant. 

In a good Japanese restaurant you not only eat and listen to singing, 
but also bathe. Waitresses brought us yukata; we changed, as etiquette 
requires, facing the wall, with our yukata over our shoulders, and went 
to the honourable bath, men going one way and Sachiko and Jane the 
other. Only at hot springs (onsen) is it the custom for men and women 
to bathe together. No sooner had we returned and resumed our seats 
on the tatami than an insinuating female voice behind the shoji, the paper 
door, called out: ‘Gomen-kudasai * (May we come ini) *Hm,* Giorgio 




192 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

answered, and three attractive geikc 1 entered, followed by waitresses 
with the crockery. 

The little procession advanced with a rustling of silk and a fluttering 
of tamoto (the long, wing-like sleeves of the kimono) and innumerable 
smiles and bows of the head. Eight vessels of lacquered wood were 
placed in front of eight silk-covered cushions, one of them in front of 
the tohmrna , the place of honour. When the delicate question of who 
should occupy it had been settled— it went to Jane, our new American 
acquaintance— the three geiko, with their insinuating ways and many 
smiles, knelt by the side of the three principal guests near the tohmma , 
filling their little porcelain cups with hot saU. The principle followed is: 
Never let the cup be empty, never let it be full; one of the geisha’s 
principal functions is to see that the guest is put in a good mood, made 
to feel on the brink of paradise. We at the ‘bottom end of the table’ had 
to put up with jochu-san (ordinary waitresses), who served us with the 
same sak6, but with less sophisticated manners and the shyness of terrified 
country girls. 

This was not surprising, for the poor girls can seldom have been 
present at such a cosmopolitan gathering; it included, besides Giorgio 
and my Japanese friends and Jane, a Chinese man of letters and an 
Italian marchese. Nara is often the scene of international gatherings, but 
foreigners generally stay in places reserved for them. The marchese had 
spent many years in Shanghai, and the conversation turned to that 
perennial subject of conversation in the Far East, the comparative 
merits and defects of China and Japan. 

The marchese appreciated the beauty of the Japanese landscape, the 
care with which the Japanese preserved the memories of their past, their 
artistic achievements and their civilization, but it was clear that his heart 
was in China. Giorgio, who knew China as well as Japan, kept his end 
up admirably with him. I, alas, could contribute nothing to the dis- 
cussion; 1 felt like an ancient Friesian or member of the Marcomanni 
tribe who had travelled to Rome for intellectual nourishment, and had 
discerned in the background, distant in time and space, a subtler, richer, 
more original civilization, that of Greece, only echoes and relics of 
which would ever be accessible to him. 

1 In Kwansai, the part of Japan that includes Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara, geishas are often 
called gttts. 



ENCOUNTERS AT NA&A m 

The air was hot, dead; every now and then a rasping voice on the 
wireless downstairs gave the latest news about the typhoon. It was still 
far away, but you never could tell, typhoons are capricious things and 
are liable to sudden changes of route. A typhoon can flatten a house. 
Someone ran through the streets shouting 1 Hi no yojiri (Look to your 
fires!) 

Barely had we finished dinner when there were two gusts more 
violent than the rest. Then the light went out. My Japanese friends and 
the American woman decided to go home. The announcements about 
the typhoon grew more and more alarming; there were gusts that 
seemed about to take the roof off. The departure of the women guests, 
who always cause geishas a certain amount of embarrassment, led to the 
circulation of more tokkuri of saki. What did the typhoon matter 1 We 
s^med to be drifting in an ocean of space. The marchese, for all his 
contempt of the Japanese as nothing but a lot of imitative monkeys, 
obviously found Kogiku (‘Little Chrysanthemum*) extremely fascinat- 
ing. One of the other girls, Chiyono (‘Eternity’), looked out of the 
window at the storm-tossed trees and sang the tune of the moment, 
Geisha warutsu, the Geisha Waltz: 


Anata no nub dt 
Shimada mo yureru 
Chiiku dansu no nayamashisa 
Midareru susomo 
Natsukashi-ureshi . . . . 


You guide my footsteps in the dance 
And my hair is loosened; in your 
Embrace I catch a glimpse of a 
Fleeting love; I am perturbed and 
At the same time happy. . . . 


Both words and tunes are Americanized; riido is ‘lead*, chiiku dansu is 
'cheek dance’. But how Japanese the thing is in spirit, how Buddhist the 
emphasis on the brevity, the fleeting nature, of all human events; even 
the brevity of love is discounted in advance. Is not the capacity to deal 
frivolously with serious things another essentially Japanese character- 
istic! Surely it is another thing that they have in common with the 
French. 

While the typhoon howled outside 'Little Chrysanthemum', 'Little 
Slave’ and ‘Eternity’ sang in chorus a comic prayer to Daruma-san, the 
greatest Buddhist saint: ‘Daruma-san, Daruma-san, arrange for a fine 
day tomorrow, so that Father cap go and play golf, Mother can go to 
a concert, and I, a student, can buy myself a pretty geisha.’ Incidentally, 



ISM MEETING WITH JAFAN 

this provides a glimpse into Japanese middle-class standards, according 
to which playing golf sets the seal on success in life. 

The light went out again, this time, it seemed, for good. A woman 
called to take th cgeiko home; everyone was alarmed about the typhoon; 
outside voices could be heard calling out 'Hi noydjht' (Look to your fires !), 
often accompanied by the sound of two pieces of wood being struck 
together; a fire fanned by this wind would certainly be a disaster. After 
the geiko had left, the marchese asked Giorgio to explain exactly how 
accessible or inaccessible these girls were. 

This launched Giorgio on one of his learned disquisitions about 
Japanese life. He explained that the world of the geisha was complicated 
and mysterious, full of traps and pitfalls; you could gain a general 
impression, but you could never hope to understand it in all its details. 
It presupposed a stratified, aristocratic society, in which what was 
granted to some was denied to others; a society of esoteric groups'in 
which privileges were reserved for initiates. Above all, it was a world of 
men. Women were divided into categories — respectable women, and 
those of the shobai, the ‘profession’. 

The marchese inquired what was the precise meaning of all the lights 
and lanterns to be seen in Japanese towns, all the signs and gateways. 
Where did one go to eat, and where to make love! Was it possible to be 
given any sort of duel Giorgio produced a pencil and a piece of paper 
and started drawing a sketch (see opposite). At one extremity, he ex- 
plained, there were the eating places proper; at the other those whose 
business was confined to sex. In between lay a vast area in which there 
was every possible and conceivable variation and combination. The 
truly pagan element of Japanese life lay in the fact that pleasure, i.e., male 
pleasure, was thought of as total; in other words it involved bath, meal, 
song and dance, good company, and finally love-making. But there was 
nothing crude or coarse about it all; every detail was regulated by 
customs, prohibitions, restrictions, ceremonies, that had taken shape in 
the course of centuries. In such a world a foreigner was like a bull in a 
china shop. The only policy was to dedde exactly what one wanted and 
then formulate a programme, but many places were exceedingly diffi- 
cult of access without an introduction from a person of consequence. 
As for the women of this world ‘of flowers and willows’ ( Turyu-hti ), there 
were innumerable grades and categories, ranging from those who sold 



Popular 



Japanese night life. Caf6s, restaurants, and other establishments 



196 MEETING VITB JAPAN 

themselves for a fee to the true and famous geishas, to conquer whom 
months of courting were required, or presents op a ruinously lavish 
scale. 

The marchese thanked Giorgio for this, so to speak, theoretical back- 
ground, but could he give him any more terrestrial, practical informa- 
tion! 

Restaurants (shoku-do) and cafds (kissaten) were purely places for 
eating and drinking, Giorgio explained. The only surviving sign of the 
ancient order was that service was by waitresses only; in a Confucian 
society waiters were unthinkable. Next came the enormous category of 
Japanese restaurants (rydriya) in which you were waited on by charming 
young women in kimonos who entertained you with their conversation 
and poured out your saki, but should be confused neither with geishas 
nor with prostitutes. It was only in restaurants in the karyukai (‘flower 
and willow*) quarters that geishas normally enlivened the meal With 
their company, songs, and dances. In these areas there were always 
machiai (‘stopping and meeting places’), to which meals were delivered 
by special establishments called shi-dashiya (‘home service’). At the 
rydriya relationships, sometimes fleeting and sometimes not, were estab- 
lished which ended up at the machiai. Finally, sex pure and simple pre- 
vailed at the joroya, the brothels, which nowadays half-concealed them- 
selves under the most abstruse classifications — ‘blue line’, ‘red line’, etc., 
etc. But the marchese should not suppose that he now possessed the key 
to Japanese night life; much more than that was required. 

Storm Without and Storm Within 

Everyone had gone to bed, and Giorgio and I were left alone in the 
streets of Nara. The typhoon still threatened; the light had been cut off 
because of the danger of short circuits; it was as dark as if an air-raid 
were expected. Somewhere, beyond the dense layers of cloud, there was 
a moon ; in fact a faint, reddish glow was perceptible in the sky. The wind 
came in furious, warm, wet, tropical gusts, and the tree-tops danced 
wildly. The pagoda of the Kofuku-ji (‘Temple of Vast Felicity’) stood 
out darkly , 1 its wooden ribs creaking in the gale. Giorgio suddenly said 
to me: 

1 5m Photograph 85 . 



ENCOUNTERS AT NAEA JgJ 

•You know, I’ve left Tamako.’ 

•What? Why...?’ 

'Perhaps because of Enrico. She always knew that I couldn't marry 
her, but she had grown very attached to me, so it was better to make 
the break now, before it became too difficult.’ 

‘But why do you think she wouldn’t have made a good mother for 
Enrico?* 

‘It's not a question of that. There’s already Abe-san, who promised 
my wife on her death-bed to look after the boy. I couldn't marry 
another Japanese, unless perhaps she were a member of a great family, 
sufficiently great to intimidate Abe-san. But Tamako, a geisha, just 
imagine!’ 

‘Have you ever thought of marrying a western woman, Giorgio?’ 

‘I don’t know, I don’t want to marry again. My only concern is 
Enrico. It’s a terrible responsibility to have brought him into the world 
between two civilizations; one day he may hate me for it. I’m going to 
do everything in my power to prevent that from happening.’ 

’I know, I know, it’s a difficult thing to have been born between 
two worlds.’ 

‘Yes, the Japanese look down on aitto-ko [half-castes], and foreigners 
keep away from them.’ 

‘But why not try to exploit the advantages of his position? Most 
aino-ko are held in little account because they haven’t had a proper 
education either on one side of the fence or on the other. As Enrico is 
so intelligent and wide-awake, why not . . .?’ 

‘That’s just what I want to do. Give him the best possible Japanese 
education and the best possible western education. In a world that's 
growing smaller and smaller, there’s always room for someone capable 
of acting as a really efficient bridge.’ 

‘Or you could send him home to your parents in Italy; there are no 
prejudices with us. Having a Japanese mother might actually be an 
attraction.’ 

The storm suddenly abated for a moment, as it does sometimes in 
typhoon weather. Silence fell on the country and the houses. In the 
distance a voice could be heard, crying: 'Hi no ydjin. Hi no yijm' (Look to 
your firesl Look to your fires I) * 



Empress and Monk 

It was impossible to leave Nara without going to see the great Buddha 
of T 9 dai-ji ('Great East Temple’), which can no more be omitted from 
the itinerary than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A long avenue leads to the 
NiO-mon, a high gateway at either side of which are the most famous 
pair of isi o (celestial guardians) in all Japan, marvellous wooden statues 
by Unkei and Kaikei (eleventh century). These artists, though obeying 
the curious conventions of an imaginary anatomy, succeeded with 
supreme artistry in rendering the effect of monstrous strength yielding 
to a sudden burst of rage; also the difficulties overcome in dealing with 
their intractable material should not be overlooked. 

We next came to the ‘biggest wooden building in the world con- 
taining the biggest bronze statue in the world’, as the guide-book pro- 
claims with almost American relish. But when you read on, and learn 
that the Buddha was made in a . d . 749 and that the temple, which was 
rebuilt in 1708, is much smaller than the original temple, you begin to 
get really interested. 

Both the Buddha and the temple are of slight artistic interest, but 
they are associated with events which admirably summarize the whole 
Nara century. In about 735 smallpox appeared in Japan, spread to the 
capital, and afflicted many important personages. The devout Emperor 
Shomu decided to erect a colossal statue of the Buddha to ward off the 
ravages of the disease. 

The huge statue was successfully cast some years later, on the 
eighth or ninth attempt This was a great achievement for the period, 
and Murdoch rightly remarks that in Europe only the Byzantine 
emperors would have been able to undertake such a task. The statue, 
which is nearly fifty feet high, was constructed piece by piece and cast 
on the spot; 500 tons of brass were used, and eight of lead and zinc; these 
were unheard-of quantities at that time. Consequently for several years 
the construction of the Great Buddha of the TOdai-ji constituted a 
major affair of state. 

When the statue had at last been successfully cast, the next task was 
that of gilding it This caused the court the gravest concern, for there 
was not sufficient gold for the purpose in the whole realm. News finally 
reached the capital, however, that gold in substantial quantities had 

198 



ENCOUNTERS AT NARA 

been discovered in the forests of Mutsu, among the Ainu, and in gratk 
tude for this good fortune the Emperor, accompanied by the whole of 
his court, proceeded in ceremony to the 'Great East Temple* to thank 
Buddha Roshana . 1 Thousands of priests took part in the thanksgiving, 
to the accompaniment of incense, music, and dancing; and contem- 
porary documents testify to the fact that on this occasion the Emperor 
spoke of himself— an unheard-of thing — as a humble yatb (slave, 
servant) of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Samgha; the Buddha, 
the Law, the community of monks). 

In the same year, 749, the Emperor, in accordance with what was 
already a common practice, abdicated in order to retire to the contem- 
plative life; he was succeeded by his daughter K 5 ken, then aged thirty- 
three. The Nara period began to develop in all its complexity; it was 
i period in which new worlds were opened up, great enterprises were 
undertaken, women held much power, intrigue flourished, and the 
power of the Buddhist clergy seemed unbounded. Hence the Emperor 
Kwammu, one of the strongest personalities in the history of the 
imperial line, decided (a.d. 784) to build a new capital, Heian (Kyoto), 
nearly twenty-five miles to the north. 

Nara had been founded in the reign of the Empress GemmyS, who 
had been succeeded by her daughter GenshS, the only instance in 
Japanese history in which daughter succeeded mother. GenshS had 
been succeeded by the devout and pious Emperor Sh 5 mu, who reigned 
for twenty-five years. But now there was another Empress, K 5 ken. It 
was she, incidentally, who presided over one of the most magnificent 
ceremonies ever seen in Japan, that of the opening of the eyes of thr 
Great Buddha of the Todai-ji. According to an ancient eastern belief, 
when the pupils are added to the eyes of a statue or a picture the latter 
in some magic fashion comes to life. The Indian ascetic Bodhisena was 
responsible for the organization of the magnificent rites, in which, 
according to the chroniclers, no fewer than 30,000 monks, dignitaries, 
musicians, sacred dancers, and others took part They concluded with 
the serving of vegetarian refreshments for 10,000 persons, both religious 
and civil. 

The subsequent career of the Empress KOken was such that after 
her death the accession to the throne of another woman was prevented 

1 In Sanskrit Vairocani. *he who soJlgh tens’. 



200 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

for many centuries. In 738 she abdicated in favour of her great-nephew 
Junnin, reserving, however, a number of important rights for herself. 
Relations between the two had never been good and, when the young 
Emperor surrounded himself with advisers who were unwelcome in 
high places, crisis developed. A period of violence ensued, and finally 
the ex-Empress sent soldiers to seek out her great-nephew, who was 
abandoned by his followers and pushed out of his palace half-naked into 
the cold, where a decree was read to him despoiling him of his authority 
and sending him into exile. He was imprisoned in the island of Awaji, 
where soon afterwards he was strangled in mysterious circumstances. 

In 766 the ex-Empress mounted the throne again, this time under 
the name of ShOtoku. Meanwhile a handsome and talented monk 
named DSkyo had succeeded in gaining her ear; he won an ascendancy 
over her not unlike that exercised eleven centuries later over the last 
Tsarina by Rasputin. He was appointed hoo, a title hitherto reserved to 
sovereigns who had abdicated and retired to the cloister, and he lived 
openly with the Empress at court; and then an unheard-of thing hap- 
pened, the only incident of its kind in the history of the Japanese 
dynasty. On the strength of certain alleged oracular pronouncements 
by the god Hachiman (incidentally a Shinto deity), he demanded the 
Empress’s support for his enthronement as Emperor of Japan. This was 
too much for her, in spite of her infatuation; she was not prepared to 
sully the purity of the royal blood after the fourteen centuries that 
tradition claimed for it. She consulted Hachiman herself, and the reply 
was negative. D 5 kyo tried again, but he had now lost the game. The 
Empress died, and DSkyo ended his days obscurely in a monastery. 

Eighth-Century Court Relics 

Everything at Nara in the century of its glory can be said to have centred 
on the colossal statue of Buddha Roshana. In the Buddhist cosmology 
the forty-ninth day after a man’s death is especially important, for by 
that day the future of his spirit is believed to have been determined; 
either a new Buddha is rising to the level of cosmic awareness, or a 
re-birth in some form or other is now destined to take place. The forty- 
ninth day after the death of the Emperor ShSmu, who seven years 
earlier had abdicated in favour of his daughter KSken, was cele- 



BNCOUNTBBS AT NABA 


bra ted on July 22, js&. As he was a hoo, an emperor who had retired to 
a monastery, the ceremonies were on a particularly lavish scale. After 
the Nara period religion was never again to play such a big part in 
Japanese affairs of state. 

During the ceremony the Dowager Empress K0my5, with a mag* 
nanimity common in the period, presented all her dead husband’s 
’treasures* to the temple, to be dedicated to Buddha Roshana: cere- 
monial armour, marvellously worked robes, ancient mirrors, musical 
instruments, gifts from foreign lands; a total of 650 items, carefully and 
minutely described in a kenmotsu-cho, an imperial deed of gift which 
survives. Thanks to a series of happy chances, as well as to the power of 
the imperial name, nearly all of them are intact, thus throwing an 
extraordinary light on an eighth-century oriental court. In India and 
C' na only a ven- few objects, particularly of such a perishable nature, 
have survived trom that remote period; hence the extraordinary value 
of the collection. 

From the outset it was kept in one of those storehouses called 
shoso-in, which were then to be found near the bigger temples. They were 
built in an interesting style, entirely different both from that of the 
temples and of ordinary Japanese houses. They stood on tall piles, the 
walls consisted of squared beams, and they had no windows; and they 
are the only type of Japanese building in which the walls carry weight 
They are said to be excellent for preservation purposes in a damp 
climate. When it is wet, the timber swells and is waterproof; when it is 
dry, it shrinks, and air enters through the cracks. 

In the course of time other objects were added to the collection, 
which now consists of about 3,000 items, 488 of which bear eighth-century 
dates. Everything— furniture, gilded swords, quivers, incense-burners, 
robes and vestments, cups made of rhinoceros horn, flutes, lutes, 
psalteries, mirrors, boxes, pots, cups, vases, plates, chess sets, saddles and 
ham^ec, jewels and crowns, objects in bronze and precious metals, 
lacquered wood, and glass (then a rarity)— testifies to a level of elegance 
and taste which was to be reached in the west only many centuries later. 

Man y of the objects are of Japanese manufacture; others are clearly 
reminiscent, not only of China, but also of India, Persia, and even 
Byzantium. A description of the principal treasures would take too 
long; I shall mention only a celebrated psaltery with seven strings. It is 



MI MEETING WITH JAPAN 

made of lacquered wood inlaid with gold and silver, is more than a yard 
long, and is delightfully decorated with human figures, flowers, animals, 
mythical birds, and butterflies. In a panel three bearded sages are, as it 
were, inlaid in the flowing drapery of their philosopher's clothing, with 
fans and cups of intoxicating liquor, listening to the music of a lute 
played by a girl reclining under a tree; all around are bamboos, strange 
plants, rocks, insects, dragon-flies, and butterflies, and wizards on 
phoenixes fly between the clouds in the sky. There is also a Chinese 
inscription which can be translated thus: 

The music of the psaltery 
Purifies the heart and banishes 
Evil passions. 

It calms us, gives us a tranquil mind: 

Listening to it, something sublime 
Prevails. Every vulgar shadow 
Is dissipated 
And caprice 

Is subdued. Joy, yes, and harmony. 

But not excessive pleasure. 

The shdsS-in is still opened every year with great ceremony on or 
about October 21, and the contents are brought out, cleaned, and if 
necessary repaired; a few people are admitted to examine them; and 
finally, some weeks later, the doors are closed again with a complicated 
system of seals, the last and most sacred of which is a piece of paper with 
the Emperor’s signature. 

I have said nothing of the Nara museum, which is full of beautiful 
objects; or of the ancient Shinto shrine called Kasuga (‘Of the Spring 
Day'), the fawns that roam in its park, the broad winding avenue that 
slopes gently upwards towards the wood and is flanked by hundreds of 
idti-dm, stone lanterns, of every size and shape, many of them covered 
in moss, which are lit twice a year, in February and August; and I have 
also left unmentioned the pagoda of the Yakushi-ji ('Temple of the 
Master of Medicine'), with the extraordinary rhythm of its roofs, so 
devised that the Japanese call it koreru-mgaku ('frozen music*). 



7 



Kyoto, in the Month of 
Maples in Flame 


Between the Mount of Wisdom and the Mount of the Cave of Love 

W E left Nara in the late afternoon. The road to Kyoto is«xcellent; 

it is one oi the few concrete highways in Japan. At one point there 
were obvious traces of a recent flood; embankments, however well 
made, are of little help in this country when the rain dragons for some 
obscure heraldic reason feel slighted and unleash the fury of heaven. 
For several miles the fields were covered with a thick layer of yellow 
mud, which had cracked in the sun; and over the mud all sorts of 
flotsam and jetsam— wooden planks, sandals, dolls, articles of clothing 
—were scattered. Here and there women and old men were searching 
in the desolation for things which the raging flood-water had carried 
from their homes. Now the sun was shining cruelly and impassively on 
their plight. 

The typhoon of two days ago was a disaster. After skirting Kyushu 
and crossing Honshu (the principal island of Japan), roughly between 
Hiroshima and Izumo, it seemed to be about to head out to sea some- 
where in the direction of Korea or Siberia; instead it wheeled eastwards, 
gathered strength— a most unusual thing— and its full force struck the 
port of Hakodate, in Hokkaido. Five ships lying at anchor were driven 
aground and smashed like matchwood, and the Doya Maru, a ferry 
steamer loaded with passengers about to leave for Aomori, capsized, 
and more than a thousand people lost their lives. 

If ever there was a country in which you would expect to meet 
sanguinary, ferocious, vindictive ^ods, it is Japan, with its earthquakes, 
floods, cyclones, tidal waves, typhoons, landslides, fires, and every 

>03 




Kyoto and neighbourhood, with principal places mentioned in the text 




KIOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAHES IN FLAME S05 

possible kind of natural disaster. Nevertheless, as we have already 
the Japanese heaven is populated by deities who are well 
towards humanity, and the attitude of the Japanese people towards 
them is one of gratitude and joy rather than of fear and sacrifice. 

That is yet another example which shows how cautious one should 
be in seeing causal connections between men and their environment; 
ancient influences at work throughout long, formative periods are far 
more important. In the Lamaism of Tibet, a country of crystalline air 
and vast horizons, the Indian jungles where Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu 
meditated centuries ago still survive in spirit; and we Italians, in a 
Mediterranean environment, insist on behaving like northerners in 
regard to clothes, housing, and food, and like Palestinian desert-dwellers 
in matters of religion, purely because of historical reasons. The Japanese 
• ^en live in northern snows with the provisional attitude of southerners 
forced northwards by events, and so on and so forth. The Japanese 
religion is probably one more piece of evidence pointing to their origin 
in southern regions where nature is a kind and benevolent mother. 

Meanwhile the shape of the hills surrounding Kyoto, the City of 
Crystalline Streams, the City of Purple Hills, grew more and more 
distinct in the calm evening light. Highest of all the mountains round 
Kyoto is the Hiei, the ‘Mount of Wisdom*, which rises to about 3.000 feet, 
a dark mass covered with thick forest which hides a number of temples 
and monasteries of the powerful Tendai Buddhist sect. Opposite it there 
rises the Atago-yama, the ‘Mount of the Cave of Love *, 1 with its Shinto 
shrines which give protection against fire. Kyoto with its million inhabi- 
tants lies between the two, protected on the west by the ancient god* 
and on the north-east— the most adverse direction, according to geo- 
mantic ideas— by the benevolence of the Buddhas . 1 

We finally reached the city at sunset. The humidity, the dust and 
smoke that had hung over the housetops throughout a fine day, caused 
a golden haze through which the last light filtered. Huge trams emerged 
from the purple shadows, were transformed into filigree patterns of 
light, and were swallowed up in the darkness again. People walked about 

* Japanese place -names of Ainu or unknown origin are transcribed phonetically Into Ideo- 
grams, and a is often subsequently read into these, with the oddest results. 

■ The north-east is tdmm ('devil’s gate'). The north-eastern comer of the Imperial Palace 

at Kyoto was carefully cut off in such a way that theoretically 'it haa no Urn’. 



306 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 


Kjf 

(nutropolii) 


Ti 

(capital) 


half-blinded by dust and phosphorescent midges; orange sparks were 
struck under the wheels of vehicles, or flashed from the windows when 
sun, glass, and eye chanced to meet at the appropriate angles of inci- 
dence and reflection. At this season Kyoto has a perpetual holiday air, 
which at this time of day assumes a dream-like quality. 
The people, so different from those of Tokyo or Osaka, 
stroll aimlessly, cheerfully, careless of everything, as if 
intoxicated by their surroundings. It grew darker, the 
first lights were lit, neon-illuminated ideograms stood 
out like huge, electric, living insects against the changing 
transparencies of the night, and the first stars shimmered. 
It was quite dark before we remembered the necessity 
of finding accommodation for the night I chose, almost 
by chance, a small hotel nestling at the foot of the eastern hills. It 
was called ‘Silvery Water’; a stream that rose in the forest just above 
flowed through the garden. The hotel was new; the stairs, the rooms, 
the bath, all smelled of new, resinous wood. A window opened on 
to the forest, and the moon rose silently between the trees. 



Ascetic and Terrestrial Delights 

The origin of Chinese-Japanese ideograms as simplified representations 
of the things for which they stand is still discernible in the shape of many 
of them; thus, a mountain-top stands for mountain, ears for rice, 
fingers for hand, scales for fish, legs for horse, horns for goat, roof for 
house. The original association of ideas is sometimes charming. A 
woman under a roof signifies peace, tranquillity; a heart at a window 
signifies anxiety; love is represented by threads of talk surrounding 
a heart; a dragon by moonlight stands for mystery; water in a wood 
stands for poetical solitude; talk in combination with work signifies 
disorder, disorganization; a river of words stands for teaching. Most 
pleasing of all is a man under a tree, signifying yasumi (rest). 

This morning I climbed up into the wood behind the Silvery Water. 
The tree with which I formed my private ideogram was a pine, which 
cast a slight shadow, like a veil, on the carpet of needles on the ground. 
Kyoto lay below, in the uncertain sunlight of a morning ready at any 
moment to dissolve into rain. The flat expanse of roofs lay like a grey 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH Of MAHES IN FLAME Mf 

fjord between the mountains, broken here and there by the mass of 
a Buddhist temple or the elegant tower of a pagoda. Kyoto is the only 
major Japanese city which was not practically wiped out in the 945 air* 
raids. The Japanese had the good sense not to have military objectives 
there, and the Americans, thanks above all to the repre- 
sentations of the noted orientalist Serge Elissfev, spared 
it From where I was sitting the view of the city was 4 TT ] 
substantially that which so much struck the sixteenth- ‘ 

century missionaries when they spoke with such 
enthusiasm of Meaco (i.*., miyaio, the capital). 

A comparison between Kyoto and Florence is almost impossible to 
avoid. Not only do they have similar connotations in their respective 
civilizations; there is also a physical resemblance. True, the valley of the 
Ar-.o between San Domenico and San Miniato is narrower than that 
of the Kamogawa, but Florence seen from the Viale dei Colli arid Kyoto 
from the Higashi-yama are essentially two seas of houses filling flat 
valleys between mountains and hills; and, just as Florence has Resole, 
the Poggio Imperiale, Settignano, so Kyoto has Higashi-yama, Saga, and 
Ohara. Moreover, the economic basis of the two places is similar. In both 
it is agriculture, for the most part in the hands of old families, and in 
both a class of artisans is gradually being industrialized. However, the 
view that lay below me was far less beautiful than that of Florence seen, 
say, from the Piazzale Michelangelo. In this sea of grey roofs you would 
search in vain for the counterpoint of lines, spaces, and volumes that 
springs to life from the bridges across the Arno, from the towers, domes, 
and campmilii for the sense of completeness and unity of which the 
supreme examples are San Gimignano among the cities of the Old 
World, and New York, the modem San Gimignano, among the cities 
of the New. 

Moreover, going down into Kyoto and walking about the central 
streets between the Shi-jo and San-jo bridges and the avenues of Imade- 
gawa, it is easy to feel a great sense of disappointment. In contrast to the 
cities of Europe, which offer new perspectives at every turn, Kyoto, like 
every other Japanese town, consists of broad, anonymous streets inter- 
secting at right-angles and flanked by neat, often attractive-looking, 
houses, all except when they are interrupted by ugly modem 
buildings of no style at all. True, at Kyoto everything is better cared-for, 



208 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

leas brazenly utilitarian, than in other Japanese towns, and near some of 
the temples (Higashi and Nishi Hongan-ji), in certain streets (Teramachi, 
Ponto-cho), and in the parks surrounding the Imperial Palaces, there 
are views which are sometimes impressive, sometimes pleasing and full 
of fascination, and sometimes truly magnificent; nevertheless a super- 
ficial drive through the city rouses no particular enthusiasm. 

In spite of that Kyoto has a wealth of beauty which is not surpassed 
anywhere in the world. Once more we touch on one of the funda- 
mental differences between Europe and the Far East. Florence is western 
beauty displayed for all to see; Kyoto is eastern; its beauty is concealed, 
a secret to be wrested from it little by little. True, you can spend a 
month at Florence, visiting churches, galleries, villas, palazzi; but you 
can also claim to be able to see it in a single afternoon, from the sur- 
rounding hills, the tops of its towers, from its streets, squares, bridges. 
It is characteristic that the Higashi-yama (‘Eastern Mount’), the Hesolfc 
of Kyoto, has no street or viewpoint from which the city can be seen as 
a whole; the point to which I climbed was a woodman’s path, full of 
slippery slopes and covered with pine-needles. The idea of a view is 
entirely western and entirely un-Japanese. What bad taste, what bar- 
barism, what childishness, to want to see everything all at once ! Hence 
the things that matter at Kyoto are tucked away in little valleys, in 
green alcoves between the folds of the hills. Its beauties do not present 
themselves, but have to be sought out. 

Kyoto, at the time of its foundation in 794, was called Heian (‘Peace 
and Tranquillity’). The Emperor Kwanimu built it as his capital after 
deciding to abandon Nara, where the power and intrigues of the Budd- 
hist monks had got out of hand. Heian, like Nara, was built to an ambi- 
tious chequer-board pattern, about three miles square, modelled on the 
capital of the Chinese emperors at Ch’ang-an. The court and govern- 
ment buildings, according to the chroniclers, were exceedingly hand- 
some; the most magnificent of them, the Taikyoku-den, con tained 
a great state room nearly two hundred feet long and fifty feet wide and 
was built on a platform surrounded by a red lacquer balustrade; the 
whole building was painted scarlet, and the roof was covered with 
emerald-blue tiles. Not far away was the Pavilion of Sumptuous Plea- 
sures (HSgaku-den), used for official banquets, the Pavilion of Martial 
Virtues (Butoku-den), with a courtyard for equestrian games and 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 


archery competitions, the Imperial Celestial Pavilion (Shishin-den ), 1 
used for ceremonial purposes, and the Pavilion of Sweet Coolness 
(Seiry 6 -den), which contained the Emperor’s quarters. The Empress, 
the imperial concubines, and the ladies of the palace lived in the ‘Pro- 
hibited Precinct* in quarters distinguished by the names of the neigh- 
bouring trees— the Pear Hall, the Wistaria Hall, the Plum Hall. There 
were also many houses for noble families, to say nothing of a number 
of Shinto shrines and a big university with three principal faculties: 
Chinese letters, mathematics, and law. Heian at the time seems to have 
had about half a million inhabitants. There is no doubt that it was one 
of the biggest and most splendid cities in the world. 

Nothing, however, could be more alien to the Japanese spirit than 
the formalism dear to their neighbours of the Celestial Empire. Just as 
in t u e case of the Taikwa reform of 645 , when they adopted the Chinese 
bureaucratic system in its outward form only, neglecting its great secret, 
that of a democratic government of sages and men of letters selected by 
an extremely severe examination system from every section of the 
population, so did they now reproduce an impressive, Chinese-style, 
chequer-board town plan, with wide straight roads which did not lead 
up to any of the impressive culminating points— arches, gateways, 
palaces, towers, or monuments — which in the same circumstances 
other civilizations would certainly have demanded. The outline re- 
mains. The roads still cross each other at right angles and convey the 
atmosphere of a capital of mathematicians and ritualists, but the 
Japanese love of the devious and unexpected, their aversion to the 
obvious, to anything that can be grasped at first sight, has ended by 
concealing the true spiritual centres of the city, its most beautiful and 
precious things, removing them from the geometrical pattern, hiding 
them away from the streets behind walls and clumps of trees. 

The city falls naturally into two parts. There is the town centre, 
equipped with every modern urban characteristic— crowded streets, 
smart women, theatres, restaurants, cinemas, shops; and in addition 
there are the famous geisha districts. This part of the city can be called 
that of the terrestrial pleasures. The other, that of the ascetic pleasures, 
lies outside this, in an area of wooded hills, in which lakes, temples, 

* Literally 'Purple Imperial Pavilion’, in reference to the highest of the three heavens rvcog- 
ntad by Chincf astronomy. 


O 



210 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

gardens, hermitages, monasteries are scattered about. There is no hard- 
and-fast dividing line, of course; there are temples, museums, to say 
nothing of fourteen universities, in the central area, and in the outskirts 
there are places dedicated to the pleasures of samsara (the vortex of 
becoming) rather than to the peace of nirvana . Nevertheless the distinc- 
tion is broadly true. 

The peculiar spirit of this city is the result of the harmonious co- 
existence of the most diverse elements: monastic asceticism, the culti- 
vation of the arts, the ephemeral pleasures of uki-yo, the ‘floating world’, 
devoted scholarship, a patient artisan class, keen tradesmen, and an 
ancient, impoverished nobility. 

But let us return to the domain of ascetic pleasures. The names of 
the places are a delight in themselves. At the foot of the Mount of 
Knowledge (Hiei-zan), not far from the imperial villa of the Ascetic 
Doctrine (Shugaku-in), among the maples which were assuming their 
autumn red, there is the Temple of the Calm Light, that is to say, of 
Nirvana (Ohara no Jakko-in). On the other side of the valley is the 
Temple of the Absolute (Ohara no Sanzen-in). Nearer the city is a temple 
dedicated to Manjusri, Enchanting Knowledge, the Buddhist Apollo 
(Manju-in), as well as the Poet’s Pavilion (Shisen-do) and the Silver 
Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji). In this direction, where the first slopes of the 
Eastern Mount (Higashi-yama) bring Kyoto to a sudden stop, every little 
valley, every sylvan recess, every shady thicket along the side of the 
streams, has been adorned by monkish piety. The Temple of Enlighten- 
ment (Nanzen-ji) and that of Gratitude (Chion-in) are near the Temple 
of Pure Fountains (Kiyomizu-dera), that of the Blue Lotus (Shoren-in), 
that of Serene Quietude (Seikan-ji), and that of the Marvellous Law 
(Myoh5-in). 

To the south the Eastern Mount descends in little hills towards the 
plain of the Uji river, and the distances are a little greater. Beyond Peach 
Mount (Momo-yama) and the Palace of Noble Fragrance (Goko-no- 
Miya) there is the Temple of the Three Treasures, i.e., the Buddha, the 
Law, and the community of monks (the Sambd-in), near a huge park 
which conceals the pavilions and pagodas of the big temple dedicated to 
the Quintessence of Enlightenment (the Daigo-ji). 

To the west the mountains are steeper and wilder, the woods 
darker and more solemn; a big expanse of rice-fields lies between the 



KYOTO. IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 


an 


city and the fiist slopes. Here too, particularly near die Stormy Moun- 
tain (Arashi-yama), where the Hozu river plunges down into the valley, 
there are some delightful places. As soon as you leave the city there is 
the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), destroyed by fire, alas! in our own 
lifetime, the Temple of the Dragon’s Repose (Ryoan-Ji) with its famous 
abstract garden , 1 the Temple of Benevolent Harmony (Ninna-ji), the 
Temple of the Great Science (Daikaku-ji). Finally, hidden in the out- 
skirts of the mountain forest, there is the Temple of the Celestial 
Dragon (Tenryu-ji), near an enchanting lake, and the Temple of the 
Western Fragrance (SaihS-ji), where twenty-four different kinds of moss 
display their humble beauty. 

Under the Hill of Wisdom 

This morning I went to see the house which was my home for three 
years before the war, near the University, behind the Chion-ji, the 
Temple of Gratitude, known also as the Hyakuman-ben, the ‘Million 
Times* temple, because during an epidemic in ijji the abbot and his 
monks repeated an extraordinary number of prayers to Amida, ’Infinite 
Light’, the Supreme Buddha, evidently with effect. The temple is not of 
any great antiquity, having been burnt down and rebuilt a number of 
times, but it is sober and serene; it stands in the middle of a garden with 
typical old Japanese pine-trees. The pleasing view from my window of 
the big temple roof, with its solemn curves among the green foliage of 
the trees, will always remain in my mind. It is a quiet part of Kyoto, full 
of low little houses, each with its tiny garden, criss-crossed by gravelled 
lanes that are hardly more than tracks; it lies at the edge of the city, and 
not far away there rise the wooded mountains that culminate in the 
peak of Hiei, the Hill of Wisdom. 

The area is called Asukai-cho, the Asuka district; Asuka means 
‘flying bird’. It is a name which a tradition-loving Japanese would call 
miyabiyaka, old and pleasing. A thousand years ago a certain kind of 
popular song was called asuka, and the name was adopted by a poet and 
footballer (a champion kemari player) well known to the elegant society 
of the twelfth century; and he handed on the name to his descendants. 

I turned the corner and can\e in sight of the house, which looked 



m MEETING WITH JAPAN 

ydlow and deserted. Two little girls playing in the sand and gravel might 
have been one of my daughters playing with a friend. A middle-aged 
woman passed who looked rather like Mitake-san, our oba-san, our cook. 
Who knew what bad become of Mitake-san? She was a devout Buddhist, 
and, though she was willing to cook meat for us, she drew the line at 
killing a chicken which was once presented to us by a friend in the 
country. I had to do it myself, and made a terrible mess of it, causing 
feathers to fly all over the kitchen; in the end I had to cut off its head 
with a knife. Mitake-san looked at me with horror and disgust; she 
made me feel like a murderer. That evening she disappeared for at least 
two hours; she went to the temple to have o-kyo read for the soul of the 
poor chicken. 

Kyoto is, I believe, the only Japanese city in which the past survives 
side by side with the present; in Tokyo everything associated with the 
past has been changed out of all recognition; here every stone, every 
tree, every noise, every cat, are reminders of the past. Look! there was 
a familiar face, that of Hirai-san, who was our chief neighbour, a strong 
man of few words, whose round face beamed health and self-satisfaction. 
As in the old days, he called me ‘Professor’— because I used to teach 
Italian at the Imperial University — and I thought I detected in his way 
of speaking to me the same touch of irony, the irony with which the 
successful business man regards that useless, if decorative, person, the 
scholar. As in the old days, he was dressed in Japanese style, but with 
a soft felt hat We exchanged greetings, news, good wishes. Then he 
walked off, his leather brief-case under his arm, to complete yet another 
of his legendary business deals. 

When I first met him Hirai must have been about forty; he was the 
embodiment of suburban success; a small, self-made business man who, 
thanks to acumen, a prudent marriage, and the favour of the gods, had 
built himself his own house and garden, sent his sons to a university, 
and had acquired vast local esteem (though not a car; in Japan, as I have 
already indicated, a car is a great luxury). ‘He pays 20,000 yen a year in 
taxes!’ Mitake-san used to exclaim with awe; 20,000 yen at that time was 
a very considerable sum. We were in fact surrounded by Hirai properties ; 
from our windows we could see the Hirai silk factory, a collection of 
low buildings in which nearly all the workers were Koreans, both men 
and women. 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 2Q 

Some of the Korean women were attractive in a quiet way, in their 
long white skirts and silk blouses, always of a single colour, either pink 
or green. The Koreans were immediately distinguishable from the 
Japanese, the women because they had their own way of dressing and 
there was something particularly primitive about them, the men 
because of something wild and barbarous in their expression. For a time 
we had a Korean maid, who became exceedingly devoted to us. In pre- 
war Japan there was a secret link of connivance and sympathy between 
Koreans and Europeans; we had an enemy in common, the Japanese 
police. 

Many Koreans in the neighbourhood were Methodists; on Sundays 
they used to attend services in the chapel attached to our house, which 
had originally belonged to a missionary. Their minister, a Japanese, 
was ~ good man, and was always busy helping someone in distress. I 
should have liked to be more friendly with him, but never succeeded. 
Asian Christians are embarrassing people to meet. As a minority, they 
live exemplary lives from every point of view, and in their eyes you seem 
to read a cruel reproach. What! they seem to say. You come from 
Europe, and do not go regularly to church or seek to convert the 
heathen? No wonder they feel we are letting them down. 

But to return to Hirai. His father-in-law lived in the house next 
door to ours. He was known as old Hirai. His son-in-law's name in fact 
came from him; young Hirai was a yoshi, having assumed his father-in- 
law's name on marriage; he had done well with his wife’s money, and 
a few years previously had bought the house opposite his father-in- 
law’s. 

Old Hirai never went down into the city. He was a little man of 
about sixty, very thin, and extremely ceremonious in speech. His sparse 
white hair was always meticulously combed and he always wore a 
kimono. He no longer took any interest in business, being inkyo, that is 
to say, having retired, but left it all to his daughter, who let her husband 
do all the work, but was the guiding intelligence, the tminenu grise, the 
true seat of power behind all his activities. It took us several months to 
discover this elementary fact about our neighbour’s life. It is in fact rare 
in Japan for power and its exercise to be concentrated in the hands of 
one and the same person, but in practice it is exceedingly difficult for 
a foreigner to discover this for himself. 



2X4 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

Old Hirai’s chief interest in life was the house and the flowers, and, 
above all, the stretch of roadway outside, for which he had an old man’s 
devouring passion; he used to water it, rake it and re-rake it, and when 
children left paper or rubbish lying about he used to chase them angrily. 
This road was so typical of Kyoto that I must describe it. It started out 
as a broad, modern, busy street, complete with pavements, trams, and 
shops, and after 300 yards ended up among the gardens of the university 
agricultural institute; here it was narrow, had no pavements, was 
flanked on either side by low little houses in which middle-class and 
professional people lived, by the precincts of a temple, and by students’ 
residences. It was gravelled, like a drive leading to a country house, and 
traffic or passers-by were rare. There was a rural quality about it that 
made it pleasing, and grass and wild flowers grew in the crannies and 
along the edges. 

Mrs. Hirai senior was said in her youth to have been a geisha; 
geishas are said to make excellent wives. She was a minute little old lady. 
At rare intervals she was to be seen at her doorway; neither her age nor 
her diminutive size restricted her endless flow of compliments and 
ceremonious phrases and her never-ending and almost monotonous 
deep bows; she naturally hissed all the time as a sign of profound respect. 
Her daughter, the true mistress of the house, the silk factory, and all the 
other property, was much more reserved and circumspect. She too was 
minute, with delicate though not aristocratic features, but you could 
tell that she held many reins in her hands and was a woman of excep- 
tional responsibilities. It is extraordinary how a Japanese woman is able 
to inspire universal respect without needing to appear to exercise any 
authority whatever. 

Next door to old Hirai lived Naruse Kyoko, the young woman who 
was the black sheep of the neighbourhood. She was neither beautiful 
nor ugly, neither smart nor slovenly, in fact she was completely ordinary 
from every point of view. Why did she rouse so much interest! She had 
been a jokyu-san (waitress) in a bar, and a rich industrialist from Osaka had 
fallen in love with her and set her up in this little house on the outskirts 
of Kyoto. Twice or three times a month a sleek black car would draw 
up at the end of the street, and the industrialist got out and disappeared 
into the house, where he remained for two or three hours. Meanwhile 
his chauffeur waited at the wheel, impassively reading a newspaper. 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 2IJ 

One dayl caught a glimpse of the famous personage. Uriu-san, that 
is to say Miki, our nurse, came up to my room in a state of great excite- 
ment and told me that the mekake's 1 gentleman was just coming along 
the road, that he was very rich and so kind and, just think, he had six or 
seven other mekake, two at Osaka, one at Kobe, one at Takarazuka, etc., 
etc. I looked out of the window, and saw a fattish and rather ugly man of 
about fifty passing by, looking exactly like what good industrialists always 
look like in bad films, complete with grey spats, gloves, leather brief-case, 
and felt hat. Naruse-san came out to meet him, and bowed almost to 
the ground at every nod of his head; the only sign of emotion that she 
betrayed was a slight, sickly flush that made her pathetically pretry. 
I smiled to think that all the Mrs. Hirais of the neighbourhood must 
certainly be eagerly drinking in the spectacle from behind their windows 
too. As for Uriu-san, I had never seen her so excited and absorbed. 

Japanese women are much prone to prying into their neighbours’ 
affairs and prattling about them, but Uriu-san seldom wasted her time 
over this; she was too busy with the children, taking them to school 
or fetching them, or taking them for walks, or to see their friends. 
The children hardly ever spoke anything but Japanese; true, they 
understood a good deal of Italian and English, but it was practically 
impossible to get them to speak those exotic languages. They even 
acquired a Kyoto accent. 

Living with one’s children in a foreign country is a great help for 
anyone who wishes to get under the skin of the people surrounding 
him. Grown-ups, with their minds on literature, philosophy, religion, 
art, are naturally apt to miss many important little details of ordinary 
life. Thanks to the children, however, the real Japan was continually 
entering our house. In March there was the girls' festival (hwa-matsuri), 
and we would arrange dolls representing the ancient imperial court at 
the foot of a gilded screen, together with many other miniature domes- 
tic objects, including a htbachi (brazier), tansu (cupboards), o-zen (the 
honourable lacquered vessels out of which one eats), cha-wan (cups for 
rice and tea), to say nothing of palanquins, musical instruments, models 
of Japanese shops, inns, boats, all enchanting little things to be touched 
with the ups of the fingers and looked at through a lens, so minute and 
perfectly made were they. In August there was the tanabata , the festival 

• Maiab means literally lunging from the eye**. 



96 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

of the tender spouses, the two stars Vega and Altair, who are separated 
by the Milky Way but meet for one day by crossing the ‘Celestial River* 
on a delicate bridge formed by birds’ wings; and there was e-bon, when 
the dead return to their homes, which, though it did not greatly affect 
us, kept all the neighbours very busy. In November there was the 
shichi-go-san, the festival of girls aged three and seven and of boys aged 
three and five, an occasion anxiously awaited because of the opportunity 
of wearing the most brightly coloured kimonos and exciting uni- 
versal admiration. Finally there was New Year, with presents and visits, 
rice sweets (o-mochi ), the special soup called o-zmi, chestnuts, seaweed of 
the kind called kombu, lotus roots, cups of o-toso (a kind of sweet saki), and 
the game called hane-tsuki, which is a kind of very sedate and ceremonious 
pat-ball. 

The girls’ games, songs, riddles, dolls, their friends, the news they 
brought home daily from the kindergarten, all constituted a continual 
education for us. Some of the songs they sang were unforgettable, for 
instance that which begins 'Chi-pa-pa, chi-pa-pa, suzume no gakko no sensei w a’, 
and is all about the sparrows’ school teacher, or the invitation to the 
glow-worms in June: 

Haunt km, hmaru hot Come, glow-worm, come, glow-worm, 

Qochtma chochin motte hi. And bring your little lantern. 

In the evening Miki used to tell fairy stories; that of Momotaro, for 
instance, the strong, fat boy born of a peach who was brought up by an 
old couple in the country and ended by conquering the Oni-ga-shima 
demons and came home with a cart full of treasure, pulled by a dog and 
a pheasant and pushed by a monkey; or the story of Shita-kiri-suzume, 
the poor sparrow whose tongue was cut off, or that of Issun-boshi, the 
thumb-size hero who succeeded in rescuing a princess assailed by 
demons by taking advantage of his minuteness to scare them, causing 
them in their ignominious flight to drop the tichide-no-kozuchi, the 'ham- 
mer that grants all desires’, by means of which he was able to become 
a full-size man and, of course, marry the princess. There were also 
stories about kappa, strange, monstrous beings who are sometimes 
kind and comic figures, sometimes evil and dangerous; they seem to 
live in rivers, have shells like tortoises, and frogs’ legs; and on their heads 



KIOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAF1ES IN FLAME 


H7 


they have a kind of receptacle which when full of water makes them 
dangerous but when empty weak and cowardly. From these it was 
a short step to stories about tarmld (badgers) and fatsune (foxes), and the 
endless acts of wizardry of which they are capable. Then, by way of 
tatgu (demons), o-bake (honourable ghosts), and cats, the cycle returned 
to human beings, among whom the most famous figure is that of 
the great judge Ooka-sama and the subtle wisdom of his memorable 
judgments . 1 

‘Little sister’ Miki was extremely well informed about all these 
things, and she was invaluable to us in other ways as well. She helped 
us to find our way about the labyrinth of Japanese customs and instruc- 
ted us in the complicated rules of Japanese etiquette. Ignorance of the 
latter is not held against foreigners, indeed it is taken for granted, but 
for that reason observance of it gives particular pleasure. There is the 
whole business of presents, for instance. There seems to be no end to 
the occasions on which presents are given in Japan. They are de rigueur 
on the occasion of a first visit, and are given on births, marriages, deaths, 
arrivals, departures, examinations, promotions, successes, the publica- 
tion of a book, recovery from an illness, etc., etc., to say nothing of New 
Year and certain other dates in the calendar. Presents are chosen with 
extreme care, with a view to making the best possible impression with- 
out imperilling the giver’s solvency; and extreme circumspection must 
be exercised to avoid faux pas such— to quote an extreme case— as giving 
someone a picture containing horses and stags, because horses are ba 
and stags are hi, and baka means idiot. One should never be tempted by 
the marvellous artificial flowers to be seen in some shops, for these are 
used only for funerals. Tips must always be wrapped in paper or, better 
still, put in special envelopes ( shugi-bukuro), on the outside of which there 
is a piece of dried awabi (a highly appreciated marine delicacy) wrapped 
in red and white paper. 

The list of superstitions is also endless. Hot water, for instance, 
must never be poured into cold, but always the reverse; chopsticks 
must never be left stuck in the rice; the right side of the kimono must 
never be worn over the left; no bed must ever be made with the head 
in the kinum (north-east) direction. All these prohibitions derive from 

• Ooka Tadaauke (1177-1711)1 lord of Echlzen tad dvil governor of Yedo. HS judgmenti were 
collected and made Into an exceedingly popular book ca ll ed Odf Mrip Iride 



218 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

resemblances with funeral practices, as is the case with the European 
superstition about leaving one’s hat on the bed. 

It was Miki who reminded us as soon as we settled in at Kyoto that 
when you move house it is desirable to send your new neighbours, in 
strict order of precedence, small gifts of soba, appetizing green noodles 
that are easily to be found everywhere. Puns, whether ‘lucky’ or ‘un- 
lucky’, are of immense importance in Japanese. The number four (shi) 
is avoided whenever possible, and is considered as unlucky as thirteen 
is in the west, because shi also means ‘death’. You must never offer any- 
one three slices (mikire) of food, because mikire also means ‘to kill some- 
one’. The nineteenth (juku) year is considered dangerous, because juku 
can also mean ‘recurring pains’. The kind of seaweed called komhu or 
lubu is lucky, because it is reminiscent of yorokobu (‘to be happy, cheerful’). 
Tai, the four-toothed sparus, is considered the fish par excellence for any 
meal held in celebration of a special occasion, because medetai means 
‘lucky’. Japanese housewives look with special favour on French beans 
(name), became mame also means ‘good health’. One of the reasons for 
the popularity of the pine-tree is that the poetical name for it is chitose, 
which can also mean ‘a thousand years, of great duration’. Funerals 
must never take place on days which for astrological reasons are called 
tcmobiki because tomobiki also means ‘pull friends’, and at least six relatives 
of the dead man would die too. If, however, a funeral on such a day is 
unavoidable, it is as well to conceal six terracotta puppets in the bier in 
the hope of deceiving Emma (Yama in Sanskrit), the king of the under- 
world. I recall paying a visit many years ago to the rector of Hokkaido 
University, a professor of pathology, who showed me, among his many 
other precious possessions, an ancient sword that he intended giving 
his son on his forthcoming departure for the war in China. The thing 
to which he drew my particular attention was the hilt, on which there 
was a tiny golden frog; the word kaem means both ‘frog’ and ‘return’, 
‘and the latter will be the liveliest thought in my mind when I give it 
him,’ the learned professor concluded. To return to the word with 
which we started, soba, it brings to mind both a popular traditional 
food and the idea of ‘neighbour, proximity’, and is thus extremely 
appropriate for indicating the hope of good relations between tonari, 
kinjo and mukai (neighbours). 

Among the latter we soon discovered a fellow-European, an 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 219 

exceedingly tall and thin member of the French aristocracy, the Baron 
de Valsieres, a distinguished old gentleman of about sixty who lived 
next door to Naruse, the mekake. His abundant white hair was always 
brushed with meticulous care over his long, aristocratic-shaped head, 
and his face was that of a distinguished-looking dreamer, sailing the 
skies like a balloonist, drifting in the wind with elegant passivity. 

He dressed in the most fantastic manner. He must have inherited, 
or salved from some long-forgotten catastrophe, a complete wardrobe 
dating from the first half of the nineteenth century. His shirts were of 
some superb, everlasting material, and he wore a huge white cravat kept 
in place by a gold tie-pin. He wore a red waistcoat in summer and a fur- 
lined waistcoat in winter; a black jacket with narrow sleeves made of 
ancient homespun; long, narrow, tube-shaped trousers of the same 
matr ial; highly polished brown boots buttoned at the side; and a tiny, 
round, cyclist’s check cap. He might have emerged from an illustration 
entitled ‘Count Landolfo on his return from his journey to the court 
of the Shah*. All that was needed to complete the picture was a penny- 
farthing bicycle. 

He taught French literature at the University, and led an extremely 
retired life in a Japanese house with a former geisha aged about fifty, 
wrote poetry, and translated recondite Japanese ninth-century poets. 
He was an ardent monarchist, and refused to have anything to do with 
the authorities de cette ripublique . Every now and then 1 used to meet him 
in the grounds of the University, returning from a lecture with a book 
under his arm, and he would reply to my greeting with a nod and 
a smile and pass on. 

Nearly every evening I would see him from my window on his way 
to the Kitashirakawa public baths, dressed as usual, sometimes without 
his cap, but always with the white metal bowl in which he used to carry 
his towels, soap, and shaving materials. The cook and Uriu-san several 
times mentioned that in the bath he was 'very handsome’ and that he 
was so considered by the whole neighbourhood. Kirei in Japanese means 
both ‘beautiful’ and ‘clean’, but in this case I think that what made such 
a favourable impression was the whiteness of his skin. 

I used to go to the Kitashirakawa baths myself when the gas pressure 
was low, but I never met the baron in the ‘honourable hot water'. 
Perhaps that was because he always went early (quoad Veau est plus propre). 



220 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Instead I often used to meet the young Nishimura, who greeted me, 
even if half covered in soap, with a deep bow, and called me sensei 
(professor). The Nishimura lived in a villa just beyond that of ‘old* 
Hinu. As a family they were well off; so were the Hind, but the Nishi- 
mura belonged to a different social category. Only the roof of the 
Nishimura house was visible among the cypresses and holm-oaks; in 
Japan no house belonging to anybody of the upper classes is ever easily 
visible from the street; the idea of a facade, of making a handsome or 
impressive display, is foreign to the Japanese mentality. 

The Nishimura were rarely seen; they had nothing to do with their 
neighbours, and would never have dreamt of entering into relations 
with foreigners. Before the war gaijin (‘people from outside’) was a term 
highly charged with feeling for the Japanese, inspiring on the one hand 
admiration, envy, curiosity, even servility, and on the other hatred, 
suspicion, and contempt. Associating with foreigners was always an 
adventure; it caused an indefinable and often dangerous turmoil in the 
delicate equilibrium of the small social groups into which the Japanese 
were, and still are, so rigidly organized. If, on the one hand, we had the 
fascination of the exotic in Japanese eyes, because we possessed such an 
extraordinary amount of technical knowledge, were generally fabu- 
lously rich, and were surrounded by an infinity of strange and desirable 
objects, and were skilful and therefore capable of being useful to them, 
on the other hand we were nearly always immoral and often super- 
stitious; to say nothing of the fact that we stank, had clumsy hands and 
disgustingly big feet, enormous noses and ‘dogs’ ’ eyes, and were entirely 
devoid of manners. Moreover, we might well be spies, or emissaries of 
some occult power, or at any rate the police might decide that we were 
such, which would be the same thing. In short, those who wished to 
live irreproachable lives from the point of the view of the local mora- 
lists kept away from foreigners. Gaijin-kusai (‘stink like a foreigner’) was 
a term of great contempt; and bata-kusd (‘stink of butter’) was even 
worse. 

But to return to the Nishimura. The only regular signs of life that 
reached the neighbours from their villa were that of the young man 
reading the classics aloud under the guidance of a master, and that of the 
young woman playing the piano. Reading the classics aloud in the 
traditional manner amounts almost to a chant. At first I found it 



221 


KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 

monotonous and almost incomprehensible. But the fact that the per- 
formance was something to which my ear had not been attuned by 
my own civilization seemed to me to be no reason to deny its value, 
and in the end I accustomed myself to it, and saw its charm; the master 
was excellent, and he unrolled the long phrases with magnificent effect. 
As for Miss Nishimura’s piano-playing, the less said about it the better. 
She spent months practising the Moonlight Sonata, but always broke 
down at a point which she must have found either excessively difficult 
or excessively sublime. 

The education of the two young Nishimura was, as far as I could 
tell, strict and varied. He read engineering at the University, did a great 
deal of kendo (Japanese fencing), played tennis, practised archery, rode 
horseback, never went out in the evening, read the classics with his 
mas?~r, always wore the black student's uniform, perhaps smoked in 
secret, but naturally could not dance, and apparently never had any- 
thing to do with girls, unless he sometimes went secretly at night to the 
gay quarter beyond Gion, which, however, I always thought exceedingly 
doubtful. The girl took lessons in flower arrangement and the tea 
ceremony, and probably in painting and calligraphy. At home she 
cooked, certainly secretly read a novel or illustrated newspaper occa- 
sionally, and sometimes went shopping with her mother. Did she go 
to the cinema? 1 do not know. Perhaps she sometimes did so in the 
afternoon with her friends. Sometimes her Beethoven, particularly 
because of the inevitable breakdown always at the same place, seemed 
so pathetic that you could have wept. 

Another thing over which you could have wept, but for entirely 
different reasons, was the wretched agglomeration of hovels which you 
came to after crossing the broad, straight street into which our lane ran. 
After passing a row of gracious, well-kept, sunny, and attractive houses 
and villas, you suddenly found yourself in a maze of narrow, winding, 
crowded, poverty-stricken streets and alleys in which it was only too 
easy to lose your way; even the air had a special, indefinable, strangely 
unpleasant smell. This was the so-called Tanaka ('among the fields’) 
quarter, inhabited by eta, the outcasts and 'untouchables' of Japanese 
society. 

So inconspicuous from the outside was this small, self-contained 
world that several months passed before we became aware of its 



222 MEETING WITH JArAN 

existence. Before the war the eta were unmentionable as well as un- 
touchable; the government tried to draw a veil of silence over what 
was rightly regarded as a blot on the country. But there the eta were, 
surrounded by an invisible wall of ancient prejudice, the only Japanese 
who were dirty, degraded, and utterly without pride. It was not the 
poverty that was so horrifying in the alleys of Tanaka— much greater 
poverty existed elsewhere in the big cities, or in the Tohoku (‘North- 
East*) countryside; the really horrifying thing was that, while ordinary 
Japanese held their heads high even in the most desperate circum- 
stances, the eta looked and behaved like people degraded, humiliated, 
and crushed by centuries of universal contempt. I shall never forget the 
furtive and suspicious way in which they looked at us — like stray dogs 
shrinking from a friendly pat because they had learnt to expect nothing 
but blows. One of the contemptuous Japanese terms for eta is kokonotsu 
(nine), i.c., not ten, therefore imperfect, incomplete, something less 
than a man. Another is yotsu (four), often accompanied by the gesture 
of holding up four fingers, i.e., the number of an animal’s claws. 

The eta constitute one of the gravest Japanese social problems; it is 
calculated that there are still more than two million of them scattered 
about the country, but with concentrations in the ‘old’ parts of 
Japan, Kyushu, the coasts of the Inland Sea, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto. Their 
origin is unknown, and has long been the subject of dispute among 
sociologists. Some— Professor Kita Takeichi, for example— maintain that 
they started by being butchers, tanners, etc., who fell into disrepute in 
the sixth century with the advent of Buddhism, the first commandment 
of which is, of course, 'thou shah not take life*. Others, with Kikuchi 
Sanya, maintain that the original nucleus was provided by the aborigines 
subdued by the Yamato, and the suggestion has even been made (by 
Oye Taku) that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel. Finally, others, 
including Brinkley, maintain that the eta were originally Koreans 
(prisoners of war or clandestine immigrants), or continentals of various 
origin, or even Filipinos. The fact remains that from the dawn of 
Japanese history there are clear and unmistakable references to a by 
no means inconsiderable number of people who were considered out- 
side or beneath the law and consequently lived in a state that was more 
animal than human. Exactly as is the case of their Indian counterparts, 
all work which in the general estimation bore the stigma of impiety or 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 223 

impurity, or was considered degrading or particularly unpleasant, such 
as dealing with animal carcasses or removing human excrement, de- 
volved upon the eta, who were considered to be entirely without rights. 

To write eta the Japanese use two ideograms meaning ‘much im- 
purity’, ‘much dirt’. True, in 1871 a law was passed to emancipate these 
people, among other things re-naming them shin-heimin (new citizens), 
but in practice it remained a dead letter; public opinion in such matters 
is slow to change. As recently as 193) Ninomiya Shigeaki wrote that the 
eta could be said to suffer from discrimination in every field of activity 
and in all their relations with the rest of society . 1 In fact, during the years 
we spent at Kyoto before the war the situation substantially deteriorated, 
and municipal police regulations harshly restricted the liberty of the 
inhabitants of the so-called special villages (tokushu buraku), of which 
Tanaka was an average example. 

In 1922 a vigorous movement, inspired by the most intelligent spirits 
among the eta, was launched with a view to the abolition of discrimina- 
tion and bringing the problem to the country’s notice. This was the 
so-called suihei-undo ('movement to level the waters’), but its links with 
Communism made it suspect to the militarists, who were powerful 
from 1925 onwards and from 1936 were in complete control. After the 
war all the written rules and regulations which put the eta in a state of 
inferiority were abolished; indeed, penalties were laid down for calling 
them eta instead of shin-heimin. Nevertheless things have changed but 
little. The eta still marry among themselves, trade among themselves, 
live in their own ‘ghettos’. Occasionally an eta manages to escape from 
his environment and get on in the world, sometimes in state employ- 
ment. There have actually been generals and university professors of 
eta origin; when they succeed in going up in the world they change 
their place of residence, try to obliterate their tracks, have their children 
educated with special care, but live in a state of perpetual terror that 
their secret will be discovered. The eta theme has often been dealt with 
by novelists; a love affair between an eta and an ordinary person has the 
romantic, heroic quality of a love affair, say, between a healthy person 
and a leper in a different social context 

The reader may ask how a religion of such high spiritual content 
as Buddhism was able to tolerate a -social injustice of this magnitude. 

» Ninomra Stamm. Am bftfy Cmantm Ok Em, Tokyo, mm. 



224 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

The answer is that the eta phenomenon seems to have arisen out of the 
conflict between a religious belief and human needs, rather as happened 
in Christian societies in the case of money-lenders and prostitutes. 
Apart from that, the doctrine of karma , that is, of the influence of merit 
and demerit in one life on a whole succession of future lives, explains 
a certain passivity in the face of many evils which were faced up to in 
the warmer glow of Christian love and charity, even in the periods of 
western history of which there is least to be proud about. 

One last memory of my pre-war life in Kyoto. I have mentioned 
nearly all our Umari (neighbours), but I have said nothing about one of 
them, a well-known master of the shaku-hachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. 
When his pupils played to him, as they did every day, it was a torment, 
but when he played himself, as happened only too seldom, it was a 
delight. Sometimes late at night, when the moon flooded the lane and 
silence descended over the city, the woods and mountains, we would be 
lulled to sleep by his fluid and silvery notes. 


Unruly Monks of Mount Hiei 

Buddhism is one of the greatest adventures of the human spirit. It 
originated at the foot of the Himalayas five centuries before Christ in 
the meditations of Sakyamuni the Buddha, prince turned ascetic, was 
enriched by nearly a thousand years of bold and sublime speculation by 
Indian philosophers, and spread throughout central, south, and east 
Asia, from Tibet to Japan, from Mongolia to the East Indies. Wherever 
it went it presented itself in the guise of a fluid, philosophical, moral, 
poetical attitude towards life and death rather than as a rigid system. 
It never adopted an intransigent attitude to earlier faiths or other 
philosophies and when it met with resistance it overcame it by assimi- 
lation. Hence the breath-taking complexity of the forms that it assumed. 
Man's other great adventure, Christianity, has a large number of 
varieties too, from Roman Catholicism on the one hand to certain 
Protestant sects on the other which border on an abstract theism or 
a philosophy of science; there are Copts and Mormons, Maronites and 
Nestorians, strict followers of Calvin, and orgiastic adherents of Voodoo. 
But Christianity has been kept within bounds by the restricted canon of 
the Scriptures, while the Buddha, according to a popular eastern saying, 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAUES IN FLAME 225 

‘preached 84,060 doctrines’, and the differentiation that has taken place 
in the course of centuries has gone to incredible lengths. 

An attempt at even the briefest account of the fundamentals of the 
Buddhist doctrine and its manifold developments would take us too 
far afield. I shall, however, say something about Buddhism in Japan, 
which is the country in which it can best be studied, because of the care 
with which teaching and literature have been handed down from the 
earliest times. 

From its first introduction by Korean monks in 552 until the end of 
the Nara period in 784, Buddhism in Japan developed around six schools. 
Perhaps the chief characteristic of this period was a deeply felt piety, 
testified to by the art which it inspired, but a scanty understanding of its 
metaphysical assumptions, which were so much more profound than 
the r'tive Shinto myths as to dazzle rather than convince the islanders' 
virgin minds. It should also be recalled that during this period Buddhism 
was primarily a religion of the educated and those in immediate contact 
with them. 

But with the advent of the ninth century, the time of the founda- 
tion of Heian, Japanese life underwent a radical transformation. The 
apprenticeship period was over, and the assimilation of the great conti- 
nental civilization started to bear fruit; the graft had given a new 
impulse to the growth of the native tree. Buddhism was itself trans- 
formed by two of the greatest figures in Japanese history, DengyS Daishi 
(762-822) and Kobo Daishi (774-835). Both went to China, not as their 
monkish predecessors had done, as ignorant islanders ready to bow in 
the face of any kind of wisdom, but as sages enjoying high repute in 
their own right, desirous of drinking at the purest springs of doctrine. 
Their different personalities impelled them in almost diametrically 
opposite directions. Dengyd Daishi introduced into Japan the doctrines 
and practices of the Tendai sect; Kob5 Daishi introduced those of the 
Shingon sect. 

These two schools of thought, systems, approaches to art and life, 
dominated Japan for four centuries, left deep traces on its civilization, 
and are still significant forces even today. Shingon, as I mentioned in 
connection with the Mount Murd temples, is the form of Japanese 
Buddhism which is closest to the Lamaism of Tibet; a religion rich in 
metaphysics and symbolism, magnificent baroque forms and impressive 



226 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

rites, an esoteric faith for initiates, rejoicing in mystery and subtle intoxi- 
cation of the senses, combined with extreme intellectual penetration. 
Tendai has always presented itself in a more severe and less elaborate 
guise; its leaders have always addressed themselves to the foundation 
of monasteries and to dealing with the civil powers. For centuries their 
ambition was to represent, with the benevolent support of the Emperor, 
the moral conscience, the ecclesiastical organization, of the country. 

What principally distinguishes these two new schools from the 
sects of the Nara period is a different attitude to man. Most of the Nara 
sects were aristocratic even in their metaphysics; to them salvation was 
the privilege of the predestined few. Both Dengy5 Daishi and Kdbd 
Daishi rebelled against this; they proclaimed Buddhahood to be the 
potential privilege of all; the task of religion was to bring the poten- 
tiality to light. Such teachings were considered so revolutionary that 
the two masters suffered persecution before their doctrines were 
accepted. 

In philosophy the Tendai school was eclectic. Their doctrine of 
progressive revelation was typical. The Buddha, they taught, realizing 
that it was beyond human capacity to attain understanding of his lofty 
teaching in a single generation, continued to watch over mankind, 
giving ever more subtle and profound metaphysical interpretation in 
the course of successive terrestrial lives. This made acceptable the huge 
mass of Buddhist literature, the differences of the various schools; they 
all represented different phases of the true doctrine. The highest of all 
teachings, however, was the famous Hokke-kyo (‘Lotus of the Good 
Law’). 1 

The emphasis on the organization of monastic life in the course of 
time took on a typically Japanese twist. In periods of insecurity abbots 
took to arming their monks, forming what were originally intended to 
be monastery guards. The warlike instincts of the Yamato were little 
modified by the new religion of love and piety, however, with the result 
that warrior-monks (so-hei) became powerful and numerous, and 
temples were transformed into fortresses. 

It became the custom for monasteries to settle their disputes by 
force of arms; by the end of the tenth century regular pitched battles 
were fought. A time actually came when monks, particularly those of 
1 In Sanskrit Sa M k a m t / o minri ka (Sami Books of tht East, Vol. XXI). 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAPLES IN FLAME 227 

Mount Hiei, felt strong enough to challenge the government; a pretext 
was provided in 989, when the abbot appointed by the Emperor was 
persona mm grata to them. A few decades later it had become normal 
practice for the monasteries, when they considered that their rights 
had been infringed upon, to send armed bands of monks down to 
Kyoto with some sacred emblem or venerated relic; this made armed 
resistance to them sacrilegious, and provided an excellent pretext for 
reprisals. The unfortunate Emperor Shirakawa (eleventh century), 
a devout Buddhist, complained that there were three things in relation 
to which he was powerless: the flooding of the river Kamo, winning 
at dice, and the monks of Mount Hiei. Using such methods, the worldly 
prestige and power of the Tendai sect became important elements in 
the life of the country, ‘but moral and intellectual values declined* 
(Si Charles Eliot). The monasteries in fact became strongholds of 
armed adventurers rather than the homes of men dedicated to medi- 
tation and good works. A Japanese ruler having sufficient power and 
authority was bound in the end to uproot and destroy these centres of 
insubordination which disturbed public order under the pretext of 
religion; in 1577 this was at last done by Oda Nobunaga. 

A visit to Mount Hiei is therefore less interesting than might be 
expected from the antiquity of its traditions. Dengyo Daishi built the 
first temple in 788, but the monasteries to be found there today date back 
barely to the beginning of the seventeenth century. The beauty of 
Mount Hiei depends chiefly on the harmony between the buildings and 
their surroundings. Hermitages, pavilions, temples lie among avenues 
of ancient trees, connected by paths and ancient stone steps between 
which grasses and moss grow. 

The highest peak of Hiei, the Mount of Wisdom, is called Shimedaki 
(‘Of the Four Splendours*), possibly to indicate the marvellous views 
to be seen in the four directions. Three thousand feet below there lies 
a great city, Kyoto; a great lake, the Biwa; endless forests and mountains; 
and finally, in fine weather, there is the distant view of the Pacific. But 
a clear sky at the summit is not too common; one of the ancient path- 
ways between the temples is called the Moth of Clouds. In fact mist 
driven by wind into the foliage of the cryptomerias is one of the things 
that give enchantment to the spot. 



Buddhist Acolyte 

The doctrine of original sin conflicts with everything with which the 
Asian is brought up to believe. Confucianism and Shinto are frankly 
optimistic about the nature of man and his final destiny. In the west 
Buddhism is considered to be a pessimistic philosophy, as, indeed, from 
one point of view it is, as it denies the reality and the importance of the 
world. But from another point of view it is profoundly optimistic, for 
it teaches that not just man, but the humblest worm, indeed all living 
things, are destined ultimately to become Buddha and be merged in 
nirvana, the absolute. For thousands of years the Chinese and Japanese 
have been brought up to believe that man is fundamentally good. How, 
then, shall we convince them of the opposite! How can they hope to 
understand the doctrine of original sin and salvation until their faith in 
man’s fundamental goodness has been undermined! Man must be 
sinful, perverse, and damned before there is any point in saving him. 

The eternal and absolute distinction between God and the world, 
between Creator and created, is another thing which sharply conflicts 
with the eastern conception of divinity as diffused throughout nature 
and mankind. This is not so much a formal pantheism as a poetical 
inclination of the mind. But it is ever present, and the alien doctrine of 
Christianity pitilessly disrupts a whole network of sweet and ancient 
relationships between man and the world. For the Buddhists most aware 
of their own traditions this is the point at which the two religions are 
indeed irreconcilable. On the one hand there is the unreality of the self 
and the final annihilation of all differences in the absolute, on the other 
the immortal soul and the permanent dualism of Creator and created. 

Moreover, as my friend Jun often used to say, how were they to tell 
what Christianity really was! There were innumerable versions, and 
each, according to the missionaries, was the sole true version. We should 
compose our differences before presenting our faiths to them. Mean- 
while the east looked on and smiled. . . . 

In Christianity the whole emphasis is on the individual, but in Asia 
the fundamental social unit has never been the individual; from the 
earliest times it has been the family. Here again the Christian message is 
subversive of the deepest attitudes of mind that constitute the essence 
of a civilization. If the Christian doctrine is so important, so runs the 

228 



KIOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAMB 339 

Asian argument, how did it come about that our ancestors were de- 
prived of itl On the other hand, if our ancestors saw things rightly, can 
this new teaching really be so important! 

Moreover, it should be recalled that the Asian way of thinking, which 
is intuitive and synthetic, tends to include rather than to exclude, to 
embrace and sublimate rather than to destroy and substitute. Our 
universe is solid, objective, compartmentalized, rigorously dualist; it 
comes naturally to us to divide things into mind and matter, good and 
evil, past and future, to think in terms of absolute truth and total error, 
of true beliefs and false. But to the oriental every religion is a way, a path, 
(00, michi. Some paths are better, quicker, more sublime, need greater 
courage, just as others are quieter and more comfortable, making 
smaller demands. But all lead to the same goal. The idea of repudiating 
and rasting away a huge and valuable spiritual heritage is a thing pro- 
foundly shocking to the eastern mind. But with Christianity there is no 
alternative. If some Protestant denominations are more broad-minded, 
with Roman Catholicism there is no escape; you have to take it or leave 
it So far they have left it. 

Somi often argued that the only way to interest the east in Chris- 
tianity would be to re-think it entirely, and to present it not in terms 
of Greek philosophy, but in terms of Indian and Buddhist philosophy. 
He was, incidentally, in high spirits today, so there was no getting him to 
talk philosophy; in any case it was always difficult to get him to talk. 
When Jun and I reached his house we found him with a young Italian 
missionary, and all four of us set out together for Ohara. Father Fustelli 
was about thirty-five, had a frank, open face, and looked much more 
like a man of action than a thinker. How could he be a friend of Somi’s? 

Adriano Somigli — known to everybody as Somi— went to the same 
school as I in Florence, but we did not know each other; chance first 
brought us together at Kyoto. He was indeed a remarkable man. He 
started learning Hebrew and Sanskrit at school; he took orders, went 
through a period of mysticism and severe ascetic practices. At his 
seminary he distinguished himself by his exceptional intelligence and 
his extraordinary gift for languages; he was sent to America, where he 
continued his studies in modem philosophy, scholastic philosophy, 
Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese. In Japan, where he went as a missionary, 
he graduated in Japanese literature in one of the Imperial Universities, 



HO MEETING WITH JAEAN 

and he is still, I believe, the only Italian entitled to call himself btmgaku 
gakushi, doctor of Japanese letters. 

From the beginning of our friendship I realized that Somi was 
harassed by a grave problem. In the course of years he had lost his 
Catholic faith; indeed, having set out to convert the Buddhists, he had 
been converted by them. Should he remain in a Church to which 
spiritually he no longer belonged! For a long time we never discussed 
the subject, but you could tell which way things were going by hints he 
dropped, by his ways, and above all by the fact that he ceased to wear 
clerical clothes; instead he wore an ordinary dark suit, and might easily 
have been taken for a hall porter or a fashionable ladies’ hairdresser. 
Somi, though nurtured on scholastic philosophy, hated discipline, 
order, and system, and, as I have said, getting him to talk was the hardest 
thing in the world. It had to happen spontaneously— perhaps when you 
went round to borrow a book, or to return a cigarette-case he had left 
at your house, or when you were sitting with him over a glass of beer 
at a railway station bar, ‘just watching the world go by*. 

Somi, it appeared, had met Father Fustelli at a seminary in America, 
where they had spent three years together. It was hard to imagine a 
greater contrast. In every word and gesture (I could see him in the 
driving mirror) Father Fustelli was a man of decision and action; clearly, 
I said to myself, he stood for the hope of converting the heathen by 
works— schools, consulting-rooms, printing presses, orphanages. A dan- 
gerous path; the heathen would take what they wanted and then kick 
you out, as had already been demonstrated. Should we not do the same 
with Buddhists who established charitable institutions in our midst? 
However, Father Fustelli obviously had a great liking for Somi; friend- 
ship is capable of overcoming all barriers. This miracle, I felt prepared to 
swear, was primarily due to Somi’s essential saintliness— onima naturaliter 
buddhica, anima naturaliter Christiana. 

The road to Ohara followed a valley lying between Mount Hiei and 
the hills above Kurama. Now it broadened out into terraced rice-fields, 
now it closed in again, and the tree-covered slopes in their autumn tints 
descended steeply towards a rushing stram. We passed through several 
villages; the thatched roofs were of an unmistakable local style; such 
a vigorous style, indeed, that there were actually specimens of it in metal 
sheeting— thatch, after all, has to be renewed every twenty or thirty 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAPLES IN FLAME 


231 


years. Once more the valley closed in, and then, about seven miles from 
Kyoto, we came to the ‘big field*, the plain of Ohara. 

It has been the private property of the Imperial House since ancient 
times. Wooded mountains rise on either side, and it is dotted about with 
villages, temples, hermitages. The peasant women still wear a special 
costume, which is sometimes exploited for the benefit of tourists, but is 
pleasing all the same because of its cut and its colour; they carry bundles 
of wood on their head, just as women carry water in southern Italy. 

Jun remarked that there were few places in Japan where loads were 
carried in this manner. There were many legends about the origins of 
the people of Ohara. 

What a strange company was ours ! A Catholic priest, a missionary 
who had been converted to Buddhism, a Japanese of Christian upbring- 
ing "'ho had reacted against it because of the claims of his traditional 
civilization, and . . . myself. We were, however, united by admiration of 
our surroundings, and the complicated spiritual bridges and abysses 
that united and divided us were tacitly ignored. We left the car, and 
followed a row of maples ( momiji ); the leaves filtered the light like a 
Gothic glazed window (Photograph 13). Some steps, completely covered 
in red leaves, led to the gateway of a temple with a gently curving roof. 
A gaku, a carefully worked wooden board, bore the words ‘Sanzen-in*, 
the Three Thousand Temple. Before entering we stopped for a moment 
at a chaya, tea-hut, opened for the season when the momiji were ‘in bloom*. 

‘Why “three thousand ’* V I asked Somi while the girl poured our 
tea. 

‘Oh, how much you want to know today !’ Somi replied. ‘I expect 
they just started counting, and by the time they got to three thousand 
they were bored to death and stopped. Why don’t you look at the girl 
instead of worrying your head about such things! Haven’t you noticed 
how pretty she is!* 

There was no point in trying to draw Somi when he was not in the 
mood, and the girl was certainly worth looking at— eyes worthy of 
a heterodox Aphrodite by Phidias, peach-blossom complexion, and 
mouth that the French would call troublante. According to Jun, however, 
hers was seiyo-rashii no hi da, beauty of the western type, not in accordance 
with Japanese taste. Western or no^ Somi and I were delighted with her. 
Father Fustelli, toying with his tea-cup, returned to the subject of the 



232 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Temple of the Three Thousand, and Somi was forced to open the store* 
house of his knowledge. 

The name indicated that we were in Tendai territory, he explained; 
the temple was called after one of their doctrines. So subtly and intri- 
cately was the universe composed that the whole of it could be deduced 
from the smallest of its parts ; the Buddha could be deduced from a grain 
of dust. The Tendai philosophers said that the Three Thousand were 
implicit in every thought By Three Thousand they meant the universe; 
complicated calculations had shown that that was the number of the 
essential elements and their combinations. 

‘In other words, a huge Mendeleeff’s table, for metaphysics instead 
of for chemistry,’ remarked Jun, who was not very interested. He was 
all for science; only the pursuit of reality by scientific methods could 
result in a picture of the world that was not entirely fantastic. He did not 
say so now, but I had heard him often enough. 

‘But Somi,' Father Fustelli said, still toying with his tea-cup, ‘don’t 
you think your Tendai Buddhists make a terrible confusion between 
subject and object, mind and matter?' 

As soon as he had said this he looked at me, embarrassed, as though 
he had thrown a stone. I realized that, though he was used to argument 
with Somi ever since their time in the seminary together, he now felt 
embarrassed as a priest discussing serious things lightly in front of 
a stranger. 

‘But that is just where the depth of the Buddhist metaphysics lies!’ 
exclaimed Somi, who was now well away. ‘Everything is mind. With us 
Hegel and the idealists made a lot of noise in the world with a few 
wretched little notions with which the Indians Nagarjuna, Asangha, 
Vasubandhu had preceded them by twelve centuries. If they had 
realized it, they might have been a little more modest, don’t you think? 
Would you like a characteristic illustration of the Tendai school? That 
of the mirror. Its brightness belongs to the first form of being, fat, the 
void, nothing; the things reflected in it belong to the second form of 
being, fai, that of contingent things; only the mirror itself is chu, literally 
‘the thing in the middle’, t.e., substantia, dharmakaya. Independently none of 
the three has any existence; even the mirror, without light and the things 
reflected in it, is no longer a mirror. In other words fai, ka and cfai have no 
existence except in relation to one another. Nothing can exist apart from 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAPLES IN FLAME 


33 ) 


the whole, nor can the whole exist apart from the infinite complexities 
of nothings and contingent things, Isskm sanded , one thought, three 
truths. . . 

When Somi started talking like this his eyes flashed, he became as 
handsome as Dionysus, or Monju, 'Enchanting Knowledge’. But when 
he noticed that we were watching him, fascinated, he pulled a free, 
laughed, and started talking about ha, contingent trifles. 

.The girl reappeared with the tea-pot He asked her name. 

'Mika,’ she replied; the word means 'So Much Beauty 1 . 

'Look how well named she is!' he exclaimed, turning to us. Then 
he spoke to her again. 

' Kaibito wa nai ha ?' he asked. (Have you a young man?) 

‘Yes,’ she answered, with a laugh— Enchanting Innocence facing 
Enchanting Knowledge. ‘ Sochira-sama o-arija arimasenka f* (Has the honour- 
able gentleman here perhaps not a young lady?) 

Somi’s brow darkened, for a moment he was at a loss for a reply, 
and when it came it was late, and was rather forced. 

‘I?’ he said. ‘I’m an old Buddha; I’ve reached an age when I think 
only about flowers, or the momij • in bloom.’ 

Many true things are said in jest. There had been something strange 
about Somi lately, I could not say what; he seemed tired, disillusioned, 
on edge; at one time nobody ever succeeded in catching him off his 
guard. Was a new crisis looming in his life? Or another love affair? Who 
could tell? 

I believe that there has been only one woman in his life, and that 
was many years ago, when we were neighbours in Kyoto. For a long time 
it was no more than a suspicion. Somi was a night bird, surrounding 
himself with mystery, like a Tantric deity. But once I detected in his 
study the trace of a perfume of unmistakably feminine origin; another 
day I found among his books a lace glove, of the kind worn by 
smart Japanese women; and one night, when I was just about to 
drop in on him unexpectedly, a feminine shadow slipped past me, 
leaving in its wake a perfume exactly like that which had lingered in 
his study. 

Months later he dropped her photograph from between the pages 
of a book on Indian art This left him with his back to the wall, and I 
discovered that she was a poet. In Japan the arts are much less specialized 



254 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

than they are with us; an artist tends to express himself in several ways; 
a poet is likely to be also a painter, a calligrapher also a sculptor or 
master potter. She was also a dancer, and had an enormous passion for 
everything Indian. 

More months passed, and at last one evening we met. Somi, ritualist 
and master of symbolism, would not have liked the encounter to have 
been left to chance; and my wife and I were invited, a mask of apparent 
indifference concealing the immense importance of the occasion, to 
a little dinner in a hermitage-restaurant in the woods of the Eastern 
Mount. Somi was extremely nervous. None of his friends had any inkling 
of the affair, and we were the first to be let into the secret. I realized that 
all sorts of things were at stake which Somi had never had put to the 
test in real life: his pride as a man, to say nothing of all the aspects of his 
taste. We were slightly saddened to discover that he seemed to be in love, 
not so much with the woman as with the situation. With what care he 
had prepared every slightest detail ! Perhaps he had come in the after- 
noon to arrange the tokanoma, the flowers, the poem, the picture. The 
perfection of the whole was breath-taking. Or perhaps it had been her 
work. But all that was a secret which we should never penetrate. 

At last she arrived. There was a rustle of skirts on the stairs, and a 
melting, caressing voice said: ‘Gomen-kudasai! (May I come in?) She was 
small, thin, elegant, and moved like a stalk bearing a big flower in a 
breeze. The flower was her smile ; a luminous, mobile smile that was not 
so much an expression of a state of mind as an acquired virtuosity, a total 
dance of all her muscles, and hence of her face. She was not in her first 
youth; she was perhaps thirty, or more. In Asia it is difficult to tell. She 
obviously accept Somi’s love with regal dignity, and her liveliest, but 
not deepest, feelings seemed to be engaged. 

This occult, symbolic, ritualistic love affair went on for a long time, 
betrayed only by trails of perfume, looks and sighs, withered petals, and 
long absences. Then— and not without considerable relief to his friends 
—the woman disappeared from Somi’s life, and he became absorbed 
once more in work and ascetic practices. He rose early, retired late, 
lived on rice, herbs, and a little fruit, drank nothing but milk, and there 
were no more trails of perfume in his room; instead there were trails of 
incense left by the robes of Buddhist monks who came to read him great 
tomes of Tantric philosophy. 



KYOTO, IN THE MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 


Z 35 


It was during this period that Somi told me one evening that, if I 
wanted to see something which would interest me, I should go next day 
to the Tdji, which is the chief temple of the Shingon sect, and one of the 
biggest in Kyoto. 

Shingon Buddhism has characteristics that mark it off from all other 
Japanese sects. We are still in the realm of the most uncompromising 
monism; only mind exists, all else is illusion. But this, like all the other 
tenets of this bold and complicated system, are presented, not in the 
abstract, but in an empyrean populated with gods, demigods, spirits, 
furies and superhuman beings: 'the inexhaustible beauties, potentialities, 
activities, and mysteries of the world * 1 transformed into celestial person- 
ages. Hence a deep and fundamental link with the arts. The universe 
itself is the body of the supreme Buddha Vairocana, 'He who Enlightens*, 
and as he is the all, his ritual gesture (mudra) is he. This provides the 
connection with liturgical practice; hence, by way of music, incense, 
song, we return to art, closing the circle, as it were. 

Shingon and Somi seemed made for one another; its doctrines 
might have been waiting for him since the beginning of time; the fact 
that he came from the other end of the world seemed only to underline 
the remarkable workings of fate. Somi scorns the obvious, and is natur- 
ally attracted by the difficult, the intricate, the devious, and the obscure. 
Shingon offered him ten steps to knowledge, nine of manifest doctrine 
(kengyd) transmitted by books and writing, while the tenth, the abstruse 
and recondite mikkyo , is handed on only by word of mouth, from master 
to initiate. He who has attained this summit is said to form part of 
himitsu-shogon-shin, the Ornate Heart of Mystery. Such was Somi’s realm* 
He was never content with pure, abstract thought; he had to combine 
it with satisfaction of the eye and the ear, i.e. t music and art; and, in 
addition to this, Shingon provided a wealth of symbolism and sacred 
gesture, and the indestructible diamond of ultimate truth. 

A young monk admitted me to the Tdji; he led me through halls 
and corridors, courtyards and gardens, until we reached a hall where 
a service was in progress. The place must have been dark at all times, but 
on that rainy day it was particularly dark. The altars were covered with 
coloured cloth; gold surfaces gleamed, as did the eyes of Buddhas, 
bodhisattvas, dharmarajas , protectors of the law, in aspects ranging from 

1 M. Anbiaki, Baddktst Art in Us Rotation to Buddhist Ideals, London, 191*. 



2)6 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

that of serene enlightenment to that of ferocious combat with the forces 
of ignorance and evil. 

In the deep silence I was offered a zabuton, cushion, in a corner behind 
a wooden pillar where total darkness prevailed. I became aware that 
other people were near me, most of them elderly women, I thought, 
though I could not see them. But I could see well enough what was 
happening in the feebly lit centre of the hall. Monks were reading in 
chorus from the sacred writings in that fascinating baritone chant 
of theirs, to the accompaniment of an irregular drum-beat Occasionally, 
when there was a pause, you could hear rain dripping from the eaves. 

After I do not know how long a patter of bare feet on the mats and 
a rustle of robes announced the arrival of more monks, important 
dignitaries among them. The abbot took his place on a lacquered chair; 
an attendant monk spent what seemed a long time arranging his robes 
so that the folds fell correctly. It seemed a highly complicated service; 
monks came and went, burnt incense, made offerings, always accom- 
panied by the chanting of sacred texts, the beating of drums, and the 
ringing of bells. 

At one point a number of persons advanced humbly into the centre 
of the halls ; at first sight they looked like monks, but then I noticed that, 
though they were in monks’ clothing, their heads were not shaven. 
Then I saw that one of them was Somi. He looked pale, transfigured, 
extremely serious. I realized that this was the ceremony called kanjo, 
‘supreme purification'. The term is often mistranslated ‘baptism*. True, 
it includes aspersion with water, but the resemblance is superficial. Only 
a few Buddhist sects (in Japan Shingon, Tendai, Kegon) practise it, and 
its sole purpose is to mark entry into the most recondite and esoteric 
mysteries. 

When the climax approached, Somi and his four or five companions 
were blindfolded with pieces of red cloth, and a picture (mandala) was 
laid on the ground in the centre of the hall. Mandala are popularly called 
magic pictures, but are in reality mystical representations of the universe 
divided and organized into its manifest forms. The chanting of sacred 
texts faded to a murmur, and each acolyte in turn rose to his feet and 
dropped on the mandala a flower that had previously been handed to him 
by a monk; the spot where it fell was immediately examined by eight 
scrutineer-monks, to see what Buddha or bodhisattva it lay nearest to or 



KYOTO, IN THB MONTH OF MAFLES IN FLAME 217 

touched. This established a link between the Buddha or bodhisattva and 
the acolyte, who henceforth took his name. 

Somi was the last to go through this ceremony. He was preceded 
by a big man, who looked more like a grocer than a mystic and com- 
mitted any number of faux pas , treading where he should not have 
trodden and accidentally propelling a monk among the spectators. His 
crowning feat was to drop his flower outside the universe altogether, 
with the result that one of the eight scrutineers, unseen by the others, 
I think, had to move the picture slightly, so that the flower was left 
touching its edge. After this performance the ease and grace with which 
Somi played his part seemed marvellous. His flower, a gardenia of the 
kind which bloom in the rainy month in Japan, dropped right on 
Vairocana, ‘the Great Light’, whose body is the substance of the universe. 
Nothing could have been more felicitous, and everyone congratulated 
him, the only foreigner to take part in the ceremony, who nevertheless 
brought it to such a highly satisfactory conclusion. 




8 

Aesthetes and Soldiers 

The Exquisite Centimes 

F our centuries of Japanese history are connected with the name of 
Heian, from the foundation of the new capital in 794 until the estab- 
lishment of a new militarist government at Kamakura in ii8j. First the 
city was known as Heian (‘Peace and Calmness’), but later simply as 
Kyoto (‘metropolis’). This was a colourful and fascinating period. 

Apart from warfare against the Ainu on the distant north-east 
frontiers towards the beginning, and a less clear but more turbulent 
period of internal troubles towards the end, it was on the whole an age 
of peace and tranquillity, of isolation, and hence of assimilation. For 
various reasons— above all the decadence of the T’ang Empire in China 
—contacts with that country, which had been so close and fruitful, 
diminished both in quantity and in importance, and in 894 the regular 
embassies exchanged between the two countries ceased. Japan was 
thrown back on her own resources. 

A large number of important consequences of this were felt down 
the centuries, and to an extent are perceptible to the present day. With 
the Taikwa reform of 64} the Japanese, as they were again to do twelve 
centuries later, adopted wholesale a grandiose system of government of 
foreign origin. A centralized bureaucracy took the place of primitive 
feudalism, codes and laws took the place of custom and precedent, 
a permanent imperial militia replaced the feudal rallies, provincial 
governors took the place of feudal lords, roads were built, private 
property was recognized, censuses were taken to provide a basis for 

238 





AESTHETES AND SOLDIEtS 


m 

taxation; in short, the foundation was laid for a system of government 
such as the west had known under the Roman Empire. But the Japanese 
never understood the Chinese political philosophy behind this system* 
according to which the Emperor enjoyed the support of the people so 
long as he was considered worthy of the celestial mandate, while the 
bureaucracy was recruited, by means of an exceedingly stiff examina- 
tion system, from the whole nation. China, a country of rationalists 
and philosophers, has always had profoundly democratic propensities. 
Its true aristocracy was for thousands of years the society of educated 
men (ju, men of letters); while Japan, a country of artists, men of feeling 
rather than of intellect, always instinctively tended to yield to the claims 
of the hierarchical pyramid, the aristocratic order. 

As for the imperial line, its destiny was marked out from the 
begi~ ning. Its members, in the general estimation, were kami, men and 
women qualitatively distinct from the general run of mortals. Those 
who dwell at court are called Dwellers above the Clouds* (The Tale of 
Genji). Only once in the course of centuries was the principle endangered 
—the incident of the monk Dokyo will be recalled— and the Empress 
involved ended by rising to the occasion. There was also the case of the 
Emperor Y 5 zei, who went mad and took to killing his courtiers for his 
entertainment, but he was deposed and a successor installed. The name- 
less dynasty continued to reign uninterruptedly through all vicissitudes. 
Succession was not necessarily from father to son; there were frequent 
complicated leaps between collateral branches, and events are made 
still harder to follow by the typically Japanese principle of abdication, 
a reigning emperor’s withdrawal to the religious life. In the year 9 88 * for 
instance, the Emperor Ichijo occupied the throne (or rather was in 
possession of the three sacred symbols, the mirror, the sword, and the 
jewel), but there were simultaneously living in retirement— and not 
without exercising a powerful influence in certain court circles— his 
cousin and immediate predecessor Kazan, who reigned from 985 to 986; 
his father Enyu, who reigned from 970 to 984, and his uncle Reizei, who 
reigned from 9 68 to 969. Many of these sovereigns lived their hour of 
glory as children; Ichijo, for instance, in the year 988, was not yet ten. It 
is easy to imagine the intrigue that must have prevailed at court behind 
the backs and generally at the expense of the nominal ruler. 

Only the first emperors of the Heian period exercised any measure 



240 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

of personal power. After the abdication of Junna in 833 the it facto 
rulers of Japan were the Fujiwara family (the name means ‘Wistaria 
Field’). So great was the influence and power that they accumulated 
that historians call the second half of the Heian age the Fujiwara period. 
The Fujiwara avoided violence, were consummate masters of intrigue, 
and consolidated their power both by the internal cohesion of the clan 
and.by their system of marrying into the imperial family. During this 
period the reigning emperor’s father-in-law was nearly always a Fuji- 
wara, and thus in the course of time there were more and more Fujiwara 
relatives of the imperial line. Needless to say, the family supplied all the 
principal officers of state, the Minister of the Right, the Minister of the 
Left, and the Regent during a boy-emperor’s childhood (sessho), who 
later developed into Regent during his maturity (kampaku). In other 
words, there slowly grew up a typical example of the oblique system of 
government familiar in Asian history, in which power is delegated to an 
omnipotent, hereditary figure. It was this monopolization of power 
which differentiated Japan from China. The Middle Ages in Europe 
were distinguished from classical times by the predominance of the 
Teutonic family and dynastic principle over the elective principle of the 
Roman imptrium , and Japanese history is distinguished from Chinese by 
the predominance of the same principle. The Fujiwara were of course 
the most conspicuous example, but there were many other similar 
minor galaxies all the way down to the petty provincial lords. At all 
levels the lamentable principle prevailed that a man’s status was irre- 
vocably fixed at birth; and to the present day Japanese life is governed 
by the subtle ubiquity of the concept of mibun (personal position); a 
person’s mibun, which depends on his sex, age, birth, education, rank, and 
occupation, governs his behaviour at all stages. This means that the 
same conduct can be praiseworthy, indifferent, or actually reprehen- 
sible, depending on a person’s mibun . The merchant’s duty is to enrich 
himself, but a samurai who concerns himself with money is unworthy 
of the name; a second son is permitted amorous adventures; indeed, 
they earn him applause and respect; his elder brother, however, is 
expected to behave irreproachably; and so on and so forth. 

Let us return to the Heian period. The predominance of hereditary 
privilege over merit not only led to a distortion of the political institu- 
tions so hopefully imported from China, but soon rendered inoperative 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 


241 


the Taikwa economic reforms. The possession of land, originally com- 
munal and tribal, had been theoretically arrogated to the Emperor, 
who had then distributed it according to a national land register. In the 
atmosphere of privilege, which no one thought of abolishing, the first 
tax exemptions on landed property were soon made, and these were 
extended in a constant and alarming manner. Many of these privileged 
holdings (shoen) belonged to the big temples or to Buddhist orders, 
many were obtained for services rendered, but many were simply the 
result of intrigue and business acumen. Thus the first fiefs were 
established, and the agricultural population had to support on their 
shoulders an ever-growing number of leisured masters. 

With the decay of the land tenure system as envisaged by the re- 
form, the tax system decayed too, and a collapse took place of all the 
instir itions from which a great state extraordinarily modern in char- 
acter might have emerged. Other organs of state were created as necessity 
arose, but in haphazard fashion, and the result was deplorable confusion 
where previously order and clarity had prevailed. Thus the ordinary 
archivists' office (kurando-dokoro) ended by actually acquiring legislative 
powers as a result of its direct contact with the central administration; 
and the same happened with the police commission (kebiishi-cho) and 
other obscure organs called into existence to (ill a gap. In the field of 
justice summary rules and precedents once more took the place of 
codes and a juridical doctrine. 

No attempt was made to find serious remedies. Sansom has an 
excellent passage on the ‘government by exhortation' that prevailed; 
rivers of decrees poured forth in the purest literary Chinese, and nobody 
troubled whether they were carried out or not; a wit coined the phrase 
chorei bokai ('decreeing in the morning and amending in the afternoon'); 
in other words, ‘never obey an order, always wait for the counter- 
order'. Decrees laid down in the most minute detail what was correct in 
matters of ceremonial, clothing, etiquette, emblems of rank, and such 
things. According to a decree of 810, ministers of state of the second class 
were allowed to wear light but not ordinary purple; princes and officials 
of high rank were allowed to wear ordinary but not light purple. The 
official records of the time note such things as that ‘the Emperor gave 
a winding water banquet and caused scholars to compose verses', or 
‘a great wind broke down two trees in the Southern Park. They turned 
Q 



242 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

into pheasants’, or ’red sparrows collected on the roof of a palace build- 
ing and did not leave for ten days'. 

Similar situations have occurred in innumerable civilizations; at 
the centre an elegant, exquisite aristocracy staving off dull care with 
entertainments, pleasures, ceremonies, music, while all round them 
an old order slowly declines and decays and in the provinces crude, 
strong, new men lay the foundations for a new order. If that had been 
the whole of the story, it would scarcely be worth speaking of it at 
length. But the Heian period was distinguished from others, was indeed 
rendered almost unique, by the fact that the small, privileged court 
circle was motivated less by the vulgar myth of pleasure than by art; 
indeed, vulgarity is the one thing of which the Heian period cannot be 
accused; if anything, it erred in the opposite direction. It was a period 
of rarefied search for perfection, both in poetry and in doctrine, of 
storms, not in tea-cups, because tea was not yet known, but in small 
cups of sakd. Everything was turned into aesthetics; even Buddhism, the 
paradises of which seemed more like the alcoves of repentant princesses 
than the empyreans of enlightened philosophers. 

With the eleventh century the two trends of the period increasingly 
diverged. On the one hand the nobles crossed the shadowy line of 
demarcation that had separated them from effeminacy; and the court, 
impoverished and impotent, became the retreat of gilded dilettantes 
devoted to the game of versification in learned languages, the art of 
calligraphy, and the technique of ceremonial and precedence. On the 
other hand, in the general disorder outside certain nuclei began to 
form which started by being independent of and ended by being 
opposed to the constituted authority. For many years now it had been 
taken for granted, whenever the imperial guard noisily demanded its 
arrears of pay or riotous monks occupied the palace to secure further 
tax exemptions— to quote two typical examples— that recourse should 
be had for aid to the heads of the great military families, such as the 
Taira and the Minamoto, which were junior branches of the imperial 
line. The strength, and the rivalry, of these families grew, and finally 
they engaged in a death struggle, taking no notice of the impotent 
government, and they ended by plunging the whole country into civil 
war. At first success went to the Taira, but the tide turned, and after 
a generation the Minamoto were victorious. The epic events of this 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 


243 


period correspond to the deeds of Charlemagne and his paladins in the 
west They mean to the Japanese what the Trojan War meant to classical 
Greece, or what the struggle among the Bharatas meant to India. 

The important provincial families had to be armed for the protec- 
tion of their lands. This led to the creation of local armies, and finally 
the samurai system .’ 1 The age of feudalism had begun. Minamoto 
Yoritomo, the final victor in the struggle, established his tents at Kama- 
kura, far from the intrigues of the court. His government was called 
bahifu (‘camp administration’), a name retained by the de facto government 
until 1868. The star of Heian, with its aestheticism and the poetical 
melancholy of its princesses, had set for ever. 

The Heian period was marked by a long, slow recovery in every 
field of the native, Yamato, spirit as against the elements imported 
ft m China and India in the luminous centuries of Asuka and Nara. 
Warriors ended by prevailing over courtiers or bureaucrats, and the 
sword took the place of the brush. The Japanese always prefer a man 
to an abstract principle, and under the new order society came to con- 
sist of a rigid pattern of personal loyalties, from warrior to vassal, from 
vassal to lord, from lord to shogun, the supreme commander. There 
could be no conflict between loyalty to your superior and loyalty to 
your principles, because the two were identical. Your superior’s word 
made and unmade good and evil. 

In religion a somewhat similar development took place. The aristo- 
cratic and ritualistic schools of Nara were followed by the two great 
metaphysical schools of Tendai and Shingon. Now, with the eleventh 
century, two new schools of thought made their appearance, that of 
Amida and that of Zen. The latter became an effective spiritual force 
only with the passage of time; the cult of Amida spread immediately 
and, with the numerous sub-sects and sub-divisions that developed out 
of it, still has the largest number of adherents in the country. It must 
therefore be in peculiar harmony with the Japanese attitude to life. 

What was the reason for this? In the cult of Buddha Amida ('Un- 
limitedLight’)— perhaps an ancientPersian sun-god adopted by Buddhism 
in itsperegrinationsthrough Asia — Buddhism has undergone a profound 
transformation. In contrast to its predecessors, its metaphysics are 
simple and remain in the background; the whole emphasis is on faith 

1 T. Troon? a, Am Ec rntm U ffistmy tfjapm, Tokyo, wr, p. so. 



244 MEETING WITH JAVAN 

and love. There is no more mention of empyreans, manifestations, 
adamantine heavens, womb-heavens, illusory heavens; all the emphasis 
is on Amida’s charity towards his children and on loving-kindness 
among all living things. Ceremonies, rites, services, are reduced to a 
minimum. Salvation resides in Amida; to be reborn in jodo, the Pure 
Earth paradise, it is sufficient sincerely to call on his name. 

Thus a genuine theism addressed to the person, not to the concept, 
of Amida took the place of a philosophical monism; nirvana was 
transformed into a paradise; and dissolution of personal identity into 
the all yielded to the survival of the self in the vast warmth of a paternal 
solicitude. It is a religion of warmth and tenderness, of self-abandon- 
ment to the divine kindness. H 5 nen (1135-1212), one of the patriarchs of 
the Amida cult, says: ‘A heavy stone put in a ship crosses the ocean 
without sinking; similarly we, in spite of our sins as heavy as stones, if 
we are carried in the ship of prayers to Amida, can complete the voyage 
of eternal beatitude without sinking in the sea of births and deaths.’ 1 
The metaphysical profundities of Tendai and Shingon were for the 
edification of the elect; in the cult of Amida the Japanese found some- 
thing nearer their ancient Shinto traditions, their traditional, kind, and 
solicitous gods, living in flowers, trees, or the waves of the sea by moon- 
light. 

The same process by which originally foreign motifs are assimilated 
and then given a new, native colouring is to be observed in art. Prac- 
tically throughout the Heian period, but particularly during the Fuji- 
wara phase, there is a progressive transition in sculpture and painting 
from the severe purity inspired by Tendai, from the tormented passion 
inspired by Shingon, to elegance, sometimes to splendoui, but above all 
to gentleness and grace. The trend was encouraged both by the new 
Amida doctrines, which humanized religion, made it lovable, affec- 
tionate, sometimes even cosy, and by the tastes of the court and the 
nobility. It was, generally speaking, a time of small, precious, delicate 
things: little boxes and cupboards, statues, which it is easy to imagine 
exercising the admiration of delicate princesses with names like Oboro- 
zuki (‘Veiled Moon’), or Akikonomu ‘(Beloved Autumn’), of screens 
made for the concealment of nocturnal intrigues, of fans, of sacred 
writings, illuminated or covered in rare bindings and decorated with 

> IL Gioumr, Us CMUsaUms dt PO Mm, Puis, mo, VoL IV ('UJ+m'), p. sax. 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 


245 

gold and jewels, paintings that illustrated paradises or court scenes 
which, were it not for iconographical conventions, might easily be 
interchangeable (Photograph S4). 

Little of this period survives. Its single important monument is the 
Bydd 5 -in, the Temple of Identity, that is to say of Immutability, of the 
Absolute, between Kyoto and Nara. It was built as a villa in about the 
year 1000, when the Fujiwara period reached its climax in the person of 
the Regent Michinaga, father-in-law of three emperors and grandfather 
of four. Fortunately the By 5 d 5 -in does not reflect the character of its 



View of the By5d5-in, near Kyoto, a wonderful example, in a perfect state of 
preservation, of the architecture of the Fujiwara period (eleventh century) 

(From Ota, Tanabe, Hattou, Nippon tie Kenchiku, 'Japanese Architecture', Tokyo, t sjj) 


powerful, extravagant, magnificent founder so much as the aesthetic 
ideals of his time. It is an enchanting retreat, all porches and viewpoints, 
resting among gardens and lakes like a phoenix that has just gently 
alighted; its reflection in the water is like a vision of the Amida paradise. 
Michinaga’s son Yorimichi (932-1074) transformed the villa into a temple, 
and added a chapel for which the sculptor J 5 chd made a big statue of 
Amida the Merciful (see Photograph 83). After governing for forty years, 
Yorimichi retired here to live the life of a monk. 

As for literature, a language capable of expressing thought and 
feeling with a wealth of elegance and allusive power was evolved out of 
the complicated mixture (using the word in its chemical sense) of the 
Yamato and Chinese tongues. In prose Chinese predominated, and 
might perhaps have crushed th$ native genius, for the conventions of 
the age required men to write Chinese, rather as they were required to 



H6 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

write Latin in the age of humanism. Salvation, however, came from the 
poets — and from women. It was above all the latter, of whom too much 
learning was not required, who were free to express themselves in the 
vulgar tongue, and did so with marvellous skill and intelligence. Among 
the works of the period two stand out in particular: the first is The 
Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon, that is to say the malicious and profound, 
amusing and astringent, frivolous and passionate observations of a court 
lady, whose follies, according to ancient traditions, reduced her to 
ending her days as a beggar, picking up rags and bones. The second is 
that masterpiece of Japanese literature, the six books of Lady Murasaki’s 
The Tale of Genji. 


Brief Digression on Language and Ideograms 

I have several times mentioned the Japanese language; the reader may 
perhaps be curious to hear a little more about it. In the first place, it 
should be made clear that basically it is entirely different from Chinese, 
from which it is as remote as Finnish or Basque is from English or 
Italian; the relationship between Chinese and Japanese is not that of 
cousins or brothers, as between Latin and German or Spanish and 
French, but that of complete strangers. The position of Japanese in the 
linguistic picture of Asia is an unsettled question; in general it can be 
said that its grammar and syntax seem to associate it with the Ural-Altai 
group (Manchu, Mongolian, Turkish, Samoyed, Finnish, Hungarian, 
and, some say, Korean), while its vocabulary includes elements that 
encourage one to look southward. To form an idea of the language as 
a whole reference should be made to the chapter contributed % Serge 
Elisseev to Meillet's monumental Les Longues du Monde which, however, 
dates back to 1914. 

From the point of view of pronunciation Japanese is simple. The 
vowel sounds are generally open, as in Italian, and some of the con- 
sonants are lacking. ‘R* and T are not distinguished, though a sound 
similar to V prevails. What happens in regard to the latter is the exact 
opposite of what happens in Chinese. A Chinese pronounces ‘Lorelei* 
Lolelei; a Japanese pronounces it Rorerei. A characteristic feature of 
Japanese is the lack of accent; in reading Japanese equal stress is laid on 
each syllable unless there is a specific indication to the contrary. 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 


247 


As for grammar and syntax, applying the patterns characteristic 
of the Indo-European family to a language that developed in a totally 
different environment is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, 
Japanese philologists accordingly classify the parts of speech in a manner 
very different from that familiar to us. Miyazaki , 1 for instance, distin- 
guishes four basic parts of speech: substantives, conjugates (and this 
is where the interesting part begins, for reasons which we shall see in 
a moment), modifiers (i.e„ attributive adjectives and adverbs), and 
particles (prepositions, postpositions, and conjunctions). The conjuga- 
tives are of interest because they include not only verbs, but certain 
adjectives as well. In Japanese you can very neatly and conveniently say 
‘yesterday colded’ (kind samukatta) for 'yesterday it was cold' or 'if to- 
morrow hots’ (ashita atsukereba) instead of 'if it is hot tomorrow’; in 
otb^i words, adjectives are conjugated. This is one of many examples 
which show that we are confronted with an entirely different' kind of 
organism. 

Moreover, the very conception ‘word’ has a different connotation 
with the Japanese. A Japanese text proceeds continuously, itisasifwe 
wrotelikethiswithoutanybreaksorinterruptions. One of the most strik- 
ing difficulties which confront a Japanese who tries to write his own 
language in Latin characters is that of dividing it up into words. Probably 
we too, if we lacked the aid of philological custom and tradition, would 
have the same difficulty. For instance, if we look at the phrase we 
strung together just now, is ‘interruptions’ one word, or two, or three? 
The nucleus nipt (‘break’) is accompanied by a prefix and by a suffix which 
are variously employed in innumerable other cases, and we could, if we 
wished, regard them as separate, independent elements. In a system of 
writing such as that used by Japanese, the basic thought, the word in the 
etymological sense, is represented by the ideogram (or logogram, as 
some prefer to call it), and everything else is termination, flexion, etc., 
etc., and belongs to the category of modifiers. 

Bearing this in mind, then, and remembering that our own termin- 
ology is only very approximately applicable, let me mention some 
interesting features of this language. At the outset it appears extremely 
easy; there is no article, gender, or number. Relations between words 
are indicated simply by particles, generally suffixes. You do not say 'in 
1 S. Miyazaki, Tht Japmat Diaimary BgUmd fa EpgUtk, Tokyo, mb 



248 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

the garden’, but ‘garden in’ (mwa ni); instead of ‘to my son' you say 
‘I-son-of-to* (wataski no musuko ni). 

The verbs too seem easy at the outset, as they lack both person and 
number. But their almost inexhaustible wealth of forms soon imposes 
a severe lesson in modesty. In Japanese tenses have little importance. 
More important than past, present, or future is whether the action in 
question is certain or doubtful, has definitely ended or has only prob- 
ably ended. Mairimasu, for instance, means ‘I shall certainly go', either 
today, tomorrow, or when the context requires; mairimasho means 
‘perhaps I shall go’, whether today or tomorrow or the next day, though 
it is generally used as the translation of our future. Mairimashita means 
‘I went’; the act has been completed, and is therefore past. Japanese 
tends much more to represent a human situation than to refer to the 
co-ordinates of the four-dimensional space-time continuum; it is less 
important to define when the act of going took place, or is to take place, 
than to translate it into subjective, emotional terms. Hence Japanese 
verbs, poor in tenses, are rich in moods; potential, optative, prohibitive, 
and frequentative; and they all have both active and passive, affirmative 
and negative, conjugations. This sometimes results in tongue-twisters, 
such as koshiraesasetakunai (‘I should not wish to have built’), or irasshara- 
nakattard (‘he honourably probably did not come’). 

As for the honorifics, these are characteristic of many oriental lan- 
guages. Something of the kind exists in Europe too; the French distin- 
guish between tu and vous, the Germans between Du and Sie, the Italians 
between tu, voi, and lei. It is a matter of changing the tone of the conversa- 
tion, registering a change of key. In Japanese the relationship between 
the speakers permeates the whole conversation in a far deeper and more 
subtle way, which it is exceedingly difficult to analyse. In the case of 
certain basic ideas entirely different words are used, depending on 
whether you are addressing a superior, an equal, or an inferior. For 
instance, ‘to go (humbly)’ is maim, ‘to go (as an equal)’ is Hat, ‘to go (re- 
spectfully)’ is irassharu. This explains the lack of persons in the verb. 
The humble maim can refer only to the first person, myself or ourselves, 
iku to a person or persons with whom you are on terms of equality or 
familiarity, irassham to a person or persons to whom you wish to indicate 
deference. It is interesting to note that the principal verbs which have 
these special honorific forms, these ceremonial conjugations, refer 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 249 

almost exclusively to states or actions of great human and social sig- 
nificance, involving persons and contacts between them — to go, drink, 
give, ask, be, do, look, meet, eat, show, receive, know, come, visit. 
Nouns and other parts of speech are also modified according to hon- 
orific requirements, generally by means of the prepositions 0, go, mi L 
O-uchi (‘honourable house 1 ), for instance, is always ‘your house’; ucki, 
just ‘house’, is my own wretched and unworthy dwelling. 

Japanese is, in short, an exquisitely subjective language, in which 
the outside, objective world remains a vague and shadowy background 
for dramas, comedies, human vicissitudes, in all their infinite variety. 
It does not tend to clarity, to accurate definition of when and where and 
exactly how many people and of what sex are doing this, that, or the 
other. Instead, it prefers to suggest, leaving the details vague, surrounding 
the subject with approximations rather than revealing or disclosing it. 
Hence the great wealth of elliptical forms (areba ye gozaimasu ga . . . ‘it 
would be beautiful if it were so, but . . .*), double negatives (naku wa nai 
... ‘it is not that it is not so ...’), the extraordinary wealth of personal 
pronouns (for the first person singular alone there are at least half a 
dozen), the use of periphrasis (kochira sama, ‘the gentleman here’; Mikado 9 
‘honourable gate*), etc., etc. What matters above all are the relations 
between mibim (personal position) and the infinite shades of kimochi 
(states of mind). In this domain Japanese attains incredible and utterly 
untranslatable heights of subtlety of nuance. Hence it is a magnificent 
language for love, as it is for the ceremonies of social life; a language 
made for poetry and allusion, as well as for invective, panegyric, solemn 
discourse, for expressing feelings, and for underlining individual or 
social circumstances. Where it fails is as an instrument of abstract 
thought; when it comes to the world of ideas and their logical exposi- 
tion all the defects of its qualities are brought harshly to light. Its allusive 
vagueness, so valuable in literature of the imagination, makes it incap- 
able of constructing sentences of unequivocal meaning; the habit of 
oblique speech often introduces an element of personal interpretation 
which, if it is helpful to art, is certainly detrimental to scientific or 
philosophical discussion. 

Typical of this state of affairs is the lack of the relative pronoun or 
any substitute for it. Until I set about learning Japanese, I had never 
stopped to consider how useful are those little words ‘who’ and ‘which 9 . 



250 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

To get round the lack of them in Japanese you have in the simplest 
instances to construct what are in reality enormous substantives. The 
pine that stands on the top of the hill’ becomes ‘hill-of top-on stand 
pine-the* (oka-no chojo-ni am matsu-wa). In more complicated cases you 
have to go through the most formidable manoeuvres, helping yourself 
out with gerunds. 

Finally, a characteristic of Japanese that always strikes foreigners is 
that things are rarely counted in the abstract; different suffixes for 
different categories (there are about fifty of them) are added to numbers 
and modify their pronunciation. The system is rather like our ‘three pairs 
of shoes’ or 'six head of cattle’, but far more complicated. One vehicle, for 
instance, is ichidai, one boat isso, one animal ippiki, one book issatsu, one 
bird ichiwa ; one long cylindrical object is ippon, one flat, broad object 
ichimai, etc., etc.; that is to say, the classifier -dai (vehicles), -so (boats), 
-hiki (animals), etc., is added to the root ichi (one), with varying modi- 
fications resulting from the fusion of consonants and vowels. All this 
at first seems exceedingly difficult and complicated, but it is much less 
formidable than the intricacies and subtleties of honorifics. In any case, 
the foreigner can always use the single series hitotsu, futatsu , mitsu (one, 
two, three) without the classifiers; he will be understood, and probably 
forgiven. 

Another characteristic is that the answer to a negative question is 
in the affirmative where we should use the negative. If, for instance, 
your host says to you: ‘Wouldn’t you like some morel’ the answer, 
assuming that you do not wish for any more, is hai (‘yes’); in other words 
you reply in the affirmative to the affirmation contained in the question, 
i.e., ‘yes, I should not like any more’. A polite Japanese always puts his 
questions in such a manner that the answer can be in the affirmative; 
nothing is considered ruder than an openly negative reply. In Japan 
harmony always takes precedence over logic. 

I have mentioned that Japanese is entirely different from Chinese. 
This applies only to the primary Yamato nucleus. In this connection it 
can be said with Sansom 1 that Chinese and Japanese are two organisms 
with basically opposite characteristics. Japanese is polysyllabic and 
diffuse; Chinese is monosyllabic and concise. In Japanese the relations 
between words are indicated by particles, in Chinese by their position 

1 G. B. Sansom, Historical Crmmm efjapmm, Oxford, 192s, p. 0s. 



aesthetes and soldiers 


251 


in the sentence; Japanese has few homonyms (words of same form but 
different sense), while Chinese has myriads; the Japanese word order is 
the opposite of the Chinese, etc., etc. The language of poetry is still full 
of Yamato words, and Yamato words prevail in the language of women. 
Typical Yamato words, polysyllabic and with open vowels, are yam 
(mountain), samurai (warrior), kokoro (heart), otonashii (good, quiet), ikusa 
(battle), miyabiydka-na (ancient and charming), imamekashi (fashionable, 
up to date). 

But at an early stage the Japanese came into contact with the 
Chinese, who spoke a highly evolved language, into the texture of 
which centuries of thought and experience were already woven. This 
language was and is still written by a complicated system which is not 
alphabetic, but has a sign for every idea. Ideographic writing is certainly 
clumpy and unmanageable, but being tied to the content rather than to 
the sound of words has its advantages. To quote an example, 312 is to 
a Frenchman trois cent douze, to a German dreihundertzwdlf, to an Englishman 
‘three hundred and twelve*. Chinese ideograms, like Arabic numerals, 
could be adapted to any language. English or Italian could perfectly well 
be written in ideograms if we were willing to make the by no means 
inconsiderable effort. 

The Japanese, called on to read any particular sign— for example 
the broken line standing for a bow (see page 251)— had two alternatives: 
they could use the Chinese word (which in this case they pronounced 
kyu ), or they could use their own word for bow, yumi . If Japanese had 
been an evolved language at the time when ideograms were introduced, 
there would have been no hesitation about following the second course, 
and no difficulty would have arisen. But, in view of the huge cultural 
prestige of China at that time (fifth-seventh centuries) and the enor- 
mous wealth of terms that still had to be invented in the land of the 
Yamato, not only ideograms were imported, but words as well. Thus the 
native Yamato, enriched by Chinese, yielded the composite language 
which is Japanese, just as Anglo-Saxon, enriched by Latin, resulted in 
English. Hence its vast vocabulary and its terrifying complexity. It can 
be said without fear of contradiction that for the last fifteen centuries 
the history of the Japanese language has been a long and painful process 
of compromises. 

Every ideogram can be read in at least two different ways. The first. 



252 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

called on, more or less resembles the Chinese original (t.e., in the case of 
the bow, kyu). The second, called hm, is the Yamato way (i.e., in the case 
of the bow, yumt). Often there are several on and several fam; sometimes 
there are more than a dozen possible readings. Let me quote an example 
from the names of three Italian towns. Civitavecchia, Viterbo, and Orvieto 
(civitas vetula, vetus urbs, and urbs vetus) express the same idea in different 
sounds. If Italian were written in ideograms the same signs (for 4 old* 
and 'city') would be used in each case, but they would be read differ- 
ently. In Japanese this is continually happening; you are confronted at 
every step by the Civitavecchia-Viterbo-Orvieto problem; it is one of 
the most infernal of the difficulties presented by this infernal language. 
In practice you have to know the individual answer in each case, as you 
do with the pronunciation of English, e.g., with such words as comb, 
tomb, bomb, or shoe, poem, toe; or though, through, plough, cough, 
enough. Imagine an infinitely vaster labyrinth of this kind and you have 
written Japanese. 

As a rule the Yamato reading is used in poetical, traditional, familiar, 
or unpedantic contexts; for more solemn, formal purposes the Chinese 
reading is used. English behaves in somewhat similar fashion in regard 
to Latin or Greek roots; e.g., amnesia for loss of memory, encephalitis 
lethargica for sleeping sickness. Modern Japanese is full of originally 
Chinese forms corresponding to our demo-, hydro-, litho-, neo-, 
psycho-, necro-, proto-, archaeo -, 1 etc., etc., and these are freely used 
to provide the new terminology constantly required by modern science 
and technology. It has several times been remarked that the impact of 
modern industry and techniques of the west has resulted in Japanese 
being more thoroughly impregnated with Chinese than it was when 
Japan depended for her intellectual sustenance on China alone. 

Another difficulty that confronted the Japanese in adopting Chinese 
ideograms arose from the fact that, while Chinese is monosyllabic, 
Japanese is rich in inflections. As early as the seventh century (the idea 
is traditionally attributed to KoboDaishi), ways were found of indicating 
the latter, secondary parts of the language by true and real alphabets: 
the two hm, the capital (katahm) and the lower case or cursive (hiragana). 
Nowadays a page of Japanese confronts us with a complex of (a) ideo- 
grams (some read as Chinese, others as Japanese, depending on the most 

1 These are in order: mb, md, gm, <Ms. sUn, sU, tM, k. 




Ideograms as abstract art. Some of the many formal patterns in the architecture of 
the language of signs: 

(a) The simplest stroke: icM, one. 

(b) An ideogram of notable complexity: KE1, MmsMi, fragrant. 

(c) Harmony of apparently Irregular movements: KO, su(ht) to love. 

(<0 A light, elegant, precise ideogram that borders on the symmetrical: 1. hoktro, mind, idea, 
will. 

(*) A nervous, dynamic, unsymmeorlcal ideogram: LYU.ymd, bow. 

(f) An unsymmetrical but extraordinary strong and decisive ideogram: KOKU, hmi, 
country, province, state. 

(From R. Muiata, M StM, ‘Correct Interpretation of Calligraphy*, Tokyo, isos) 





254 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

varied rules and traditions), representing the fundamental subject- 
matter; and (b) alphabetic or syllabic signs, indicating particles, inflec- 
tions, recently imported neologisms, and various other elements of 
minor importance. 

The result of the long symbiosis between two such fundamentally 
different languages is that there is not one Japanese language, but 
several, all differing substantially from one another. The two extremes 
are the almost pure Chinese of some official documents on the one 
hand and the almost pure Yamato of poetry on the other. There are 
innumerable varieties in between. There is the classical literary language, 
there are the male and female epistolary styles, there is the language of 
the newspapers, that of ordinary conversation, that of men, that of 
women, etc., etc. The list is endless. Efforts are now being made as far as 
possible to devise a single, unified language which would be universally 
acceptable, but it is sufficient to scratch the surface of Japanese life to 
realize that for a long time to come that can be no more than a beautiful 
dream. 

Thus the Japanese language, viewed as a whole, is an instrument of 
extraordinary wealth, but of the most infernal complexity. A Japanese 
child spends the first six years at school learning to read and write more 
than a thousand basic signs. It is true that learning an ideogram means 
learning an idea at the same time, and that the process is therefore not 
so time-wasting as it might seem. Nevertheless the strain on eyes and 
memory is great. Anyone brought up in a civilization in which ideas are 
communicated phonetically naturally asks: Why not change the system? 
This has been suggested many times, both by individuals and important 
groups, but nothing has ever come of it. It should not be overlooked 
that for a very long time (nearly 2,000 years in the case of the Indian 
syllabic alphabets, and five centuries in the case of the European lan- 
guages) the Far East has been in contact with much simpler systems, 
but has failed to be influenced by them; there must be important 
reasons to explain the vigorous survival of the ideographic system. The 
tendency today is to reduce and simplify the signs rather than to do 
away with them. Moreover, in this important respect China and Japan 
are tied to each other. The intention of adopting an alphabet has been 
announced in China, and if she succeeded Japan would ultimately have 
to follow suit. 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIEES 


*55 

It would certainly be a step of extreme gravity. According to Sansom 
it would involve 4 a complete revolution in the style and content of the 
written language, since the latter has ended by assuming its present 
form under the influence of ideographic transcription’. The Japanese, 
confronted with a page of their language transcribed into the Latin 
alphabet, say pinto-ga awanai (‘it is out of focus’). The fact is that ideographic 
writing — leaving aside the immense labour involved in learning it— 
presents things, ideas, feelings, to the eye, to the mind, to the emotions, 
with an immediacy and a vividness with which an ordinary phonetic 
system cannot compete, particularly in the case of a language in which 
homonyms are numerous. Moreover, abolition of the traditional system 
would involve a long, painful period of transition, apart from the fact 
that the country’s whole literary heritage would at a stroke become 
‘fo’''ign’, accessible only to a few specialists, a source from which it 
would be necessary to ‘translate’. 

Finally — and perhaps this is the fundamental reason for the peren- 
nial vitality of the ideographic system— the place that it occupies in Far 
Eastern civilization is only to a most superficial extent analogous to 
that occupied by the alphabet in our own or other ‘phonetic’ civiliza- 
tions, for example those of India or Islam. In our written language we 
are principally concerned with meaning and pronunciation. The quin- 
tessence of language is poetry, which approaches song, music; western 
poetry is composed essentially to be recited. But a language written 
ideographically is concerned with three things: meaning, sound, and 
appearance. When it ascends to poetry it tends to become rather the 
sister of painting or of architecture, the latter being understood as the 
art of spatial relations. Chinese poetry is written essentially to be seen; 
it penetrates to the mind by way of the eyes. 

Thus in the Far East calligraphy is the mother of the arts. Writer and 
artist use the same instrument, the brush; and the same aesthetic prin- 
ciples govern the activities of both. Far Eastern civilization could be well 
represented as a spiral on which nature, gardening, calligraphy, painting, 
style of life, architecture, formed, as it were, so many stops. Photographs 
105 (ideograms in the grass style), 106 (a tree), 107 (pine-tree on a wild 
coast), 10S (pine-tree in a famous garden), and the illustration on page 188 
(architecture), touch some pointy on this imaginary projection. When 
a civ iliza tion has reached a high degree of perfection, every part implies 



256 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

the whole; here every artist, from gardener to calligrapher, from 
painter to architect, vibrates in harmony, as if all handled tools designed 
to capture the same series of invisible harmonics. The classical, Gothic, 
Baroque worlds, to quote a few well-known examples, approached this 
ideal, which is always implicit in every civilization, but becomes explicit 
only in those which have had time and opportunity to reach maturity. 

I shall not linger to discuss the origin of ideograms, or to describe 
how in many cases their present shape resulted from the transformation 
into abstract form of the original, primitive picture as a result of constant 
usage and the consequent trend to simplification. I shall mention only 
that there are at least three different styles in which they can be written: 
the lapidary, solemn style called kai-sho, which is square and regular 
(see page 253); the intermediary, cursive style called gyo-sho ; and the 
sinuous, personal, rapid, light style called so-sho (Photograph 105); to say 
nothing of the two 'seal' styles, the great and the small. 

Ideograms, with their ancient history, are marvellous examples of 
abstract beauty, organisms of lines, of spaces filled and unfilled, of 
visible and invisible relations the sum-total of whose equilibrium is the 
result of the work of generations of artists. Every stroke of the brush has 
attained a perfect aesthetic functionalism within the whole. From this 
merely static point of view, its beauty is that of bones. A bone is function 
which has assumed form, form which has been turned into matter, 
limestone modelled by the ages. 

But it would be the worst of errors to regard ideograms as static, 
as living mechanisms which have died on paper. The Chinese and 
Japanese masters never cease insisting that the fully successful ideogram 
must vibrate with life, must ‘be an adventure of movement ’. 1 The first 
point to note is that every ideogram occupies, animates, an imaginary 
quadrilateral. The strokes are rarely symmetrical; in asymmetry, which 
is essentially dynamic, there is already a germ of life. Most important of 
all, it should be noted that in writing an ideogram, a sentence, a whole 
page, no correction, no change of mind, no second thoughts, are in any 
circumstances permitted; the brush must never go back over its work. 
This is not an arbitrarily imposed, external rule; the simple reason for it 
is that the writing is conceived dynamically, as representing the con- 
tinuous trace of a dance; a dance of hand, arm, and fingers; a symbolic, 

1 Chung Yu, Ckhmt Calli gra p hy , Harvard, lasc, p. nc. 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 257 

miniature dance which fully engages both body and mind, involving 
participating in a vital flow in which there can be no stopping. 

Finally, this dance, with its qualities of elegance, strength, and sensi- 
tivity, is not only addressed to the emotions; it is also a precise language 
addressed to the mind. The ideogram is the only abstract art in which 
form and content complete each other; every ideogram has a well- 
defined meaning, a history. In comparison with this, its Asian grown-up 
sister, abstract art as known and practised in the west stands condemned 
to the inferiority of the vague and merely pleasing. 

The relations between shape and meaning rarely depends on 
pictorial realism; instead the meaning emerges as a secret subtly con- 
veyed by line and rhythm. If the reader glances at the ideogram for 
Man (page 106), he will note the strength and virility with which the 
bi d, strong oblong and the two agile and decisive strokes of the brush 
underneath it lie on the page. The sense of Man is conveyed without 
any recourse to external resemblance, for etymologically the ideogram 
consists of a field (the square) combined with strength (the divergent 
lines). The same can be said of the ideogram that means ‘country, 
province, state’ (page 253), a citadel of lines, a harmony of centripetal 
and asymmetrical relations; or of the pattern that stands for a bow — 
tension of muscles ready to be released. 

Years of work and effort are required before true freedom can be 
attained in this art, before it becomes an intimate and personal means 
of expression. The results, however, are to be included among the great 
aesthetic attainments of mankind. I believe it possible to argue that the 
failure of Asia to develop an art of music comparable to that of the west 
was due to the fact that in the east the need for abstract beauty found 
full satisfaction in writing; the same satisfaction that Europe discovered 
in the harmony and orchestration of sound. 


Japanese Wife 

Professor Nishikata is an art historian and teaches in one of the Kyoto 
universities; he is also a writer, a critic, and an organizer of art exhibitions, 
He is aged about sixty, that is, the age at which people either improve 
like good wine or deteriorate like’meat left in the refrigerator. I unhesi- 
tatingly put Nishikata in the former category. He looks at things with 
R 



25* MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Buddhist detachment and serenity, though he participates with elegance 
and good humour in the vortex of becoming by which he is surrounded. 
Tonight he invited me to dine with him at one of the little restaurants 
along the Kamo river. Like all self-respecting Japanese, he reserved 
a table in advance; the Japanese do not like disappearing into public 
anonymity; the whole of their lives is conducted on a basis of relation- 
ships, personal ties, introductions. In this, incidentally, they are exactly 
like Sicilians. In a society of fundamentally aristocratic texture, what 
counts is not so much the man himself as his mibun , the place he has 
occupied in the system since the beginning of time. 

Preceded and followed by charming young women solicitous 
for our wellbeing, we went and squatted on two silk cushions on 
the tatami. The big, low table was lit by a paper lantern of elegant sim- 
plicity. The assimilation of elements imported from abroad into Japanese 
culture (using the word in its broadest, anthropological sense, including 
everything from religion to slippers, from funeral rites to economic 
structure) is a slow process, but I have full confidence in Japanese taste. 
Twenty years ago, for instance, electric light, which had taken the place 
of the tremulous, poetic flame of the ancient andcm, shone crudely and 
violently from a lamp suspended in the centre of the room; in such 
circumstances no architecture or furnishing could survive and every- 
thing was reduced to the level of a railway station waiting-room. But 
since then a great step forward has been taken; the Japanese have 
realized that electric light, properly shaded and protected, can be used, 
not only to produce the charming effects of former times, but an 
infinity of new and unexpected effects, merely with the aid of two 
typically Japanese materials, paper and bamboo. 

The warm bubble of light that enclosed us at our table, as if sus- 
pended over a lake of liquid black lacquer, made it barely possible to see 
the houses, windows, roofs, on the other bank of the river, or the sharp 
outline of the Eastern Hills, over which the moon was rising. Autumn in 
Japan ripens more slowly and serenely than with us; it is associated, not 
with rain and bad weather, but with clear skies and bright sunshine. 
Near us, on other little terraces, were other parties of diners, and we 
could hear their gusts of laughter. Girls (geishas?) sang and played the 
samisen. Some terraces were occupied by silent couples; one of them was 
evidently a business man, and his companion one of the innumerable 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIEES 239 

members of the Japanese half-world, met by chance ortf night heaven 
knows how, in a bar, a kafiti, an onsert. 

Why had Nishikata invited me to dinner! True, we had known each 
other for some time and got on well enough, but that was not a suffi- 
cient reason. One’s true friends in Japan are few and last a lifetime; 
they constitute a small and restricted circle, outside which, in my exper- 
ience, you rarely entertain, except for business reasons or with some 
other definite purpose in mind. If I represented something it would 
be different, and the invitation would be easy to explain. In Japan 
invitations are directed to one’s position, rank, office, rather than 
to oneself. Any connection with a university, an embassy, a church, 
industry, the press, with any duly constituted and recognized organi- 
zation, will procure you any amount of invitations, but as an individual 
. . . What is an individual in Japan! He can almost be said not to exist. 
If he attempts to do so, he can hardly move a finger without generating 
a slight aura of suspicion. If he does not appear to be connected with 
anything, it can only be because he is connected with something clan- 
destine, so he had better be kept at a distance. The individual enjoys no 
true citizenship in these longitudes. 

I soon tumbled to the explanation of Nishikata's invitation; he 
wanted to talk to me about Giorgio; Giorgio had in fact at one time 
been one of his students, and this had established between them the 
mystic relationship of master and pupil which remains sacred for the 
lifetime of both. Just as the pupil has certain duties towards his master, 
so has the master certain duties, of a paternal nature, towards his pupil; 
and Nishikata-sensei, Professor Nishikata, had from the outset con- 
ceived a great liking for Giorgio, whose talents and character he admired. 

He told me that Giorgio was wasting his brilliant gifts in business, 
doing work which others could do equally well, that he was greatly 
worried about this, and that it kept him awake at night. I, as Giorgio’s 
old and close friend, should help him to bring him back to the right 
track. 

At bottom I agreed, but a certain taste for argument and a sense of 
youthful solidarity with Giorgio made me stick up for him. 

The professor wondered whether it was true that Giorgio was as 
first-class a business man as I maintained. Every time he saw him, he 
looked more strained and nervous. He was doing well, but not so 



260 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

extraordinarily well as all that. He had his fingers in a hundred pies and 
was walking a razor’s edge. What would happen if things went wrong! 
With Giorgio’s gifts . . . 

Snatches of conversation came floating over from the next terrace, 
where four or five men were dining with as many women. I kept hearing 
the phrase tayo-zoku (’race of the sun’), a name taken from a recent novel 
which enjoyed a succis de scandale, referring to the wild, post-war genera- 
tion which had grown up without filial piety or a god-emperor. The 
men must have said some pretty strong things, because the young 
women laughed nervously, covering their faces with their fan or 
tomato , the sleeve of their kimono, exclaiming 7 ya da wa' (I don’t like that ! 
How horrid !) It is infuriating when two conversations in which you are 
equally interested are simultaneously in progress. 

The professor went on to say that the trouble with Giorgio had 
begun with his disastrous marriage. I became ashamed of putting my 
friend’s life on the same level as that of society in general, and shut off 
the tayo-zoku channel to devote myself entirely to what Nishikata-sensei 
was saying. He said he had known Mineko from childhood, and she had 
always been spoilt, the most spoilt girl in all Tokyo. Her mother, a 
woman of aristocratic family, had married, out of caprice, a small 
industrialist, who worked himself to death to keep her in kimonos and 
French perfume and enable her to travel and go to the theatre. Mineko 
had grown up under her mother’s guidance, and had learnt with her 
mother's milk that the sole purpose of men, husbands, fathers, brothers, 
was to be milked. . . . Oh, yes, in novels, and generally in films too, 
Japanese women were all submission, sweetness, solicitude, affection. 
But in real life what claws there were in those tiny hands ! What schemes 
of conquest lay concealed in those little heads that looked like innocent 
rose-buds! 

The professor sipped his saki and slipped on his jacket; a damp 
breeze was bringing cool air down from the mountains. Mineko, he 
went on, could not have married anyone but a foreigner. If she had 
married a Japanese, it would have broken down immediately. But we 
westerners made a cult of women, and Giorgio might have been made 
to measure for her selfish and elegant tastes. She was certainly elegant 
in her tastes, and she had gifts sufficient to charm anybody; she was 
intelligent, witty, beautifully dressed, and showed admirable taste in 



AESTHETES AND S0LD1E&S 


361 

the things with which she surrounded herself. Giorgio had found in her 
everything that he found most delightful in Japan. If they had remained 
lovers, well and good. But marriage? When Giorgio had come to him 
and told him they were going to get married, he had remained silent. 
But Giorgio had understood. Certainly he had understood. When he 
married her he had put himself completely in her power. 

The professor clapped his hands, as is the custom in Japan to call 
the waitress, who brought the bowl of steaming white rice which 
always ends a meal of any importance. 

As had been easy to foresee, the professor continued after a pause, 
Giorgio was quickly reduced to the position of a slave. If she had a head- 
ache, who had to look after the house? Giorgio. If she wanted to go to 
the kabuki theatre, who had to accompany her, even if he had had an 
exhausting day at the office? Giorgio. If she needed this or that, a fur, 
a holiday in the country, a studio, a jewel, a collection of expensive 
books, Giorgio had to find the money. That was why he had abandoned 
his work which, if it had been published, might not have brought him 
in much money, but would have given him deep and lasting satisfaction, 
and assured him of a brilliant academic career. He had gone in for busi- 
ness as a post-war expedient but, once involved in it, it was hard to 
extricate oneself; it had turned into a chain. Then Mineko had fallen ill. 
That had been a terrible time for everybody. Giorgio had behaved like 
an angel. He had been like a man possessed. He had spared nothing in 
efforts to save her, but it had all been in vain. Perhaps it had been for the 
best. 

Nishikata-sensei paused, slowly and thoughtfully eating his rice. 
Behind us the gusts of laughter, the shrieks of the geisha, went on. 1 had 
lost interest in piecing together other people’s conversation. I had never 
met Mineko. In the eyes of Abe-san, Giorgio’s housekeeper and his son’s 
nurse, she had been a saint; for Giorgio, she had been the embodiment 
of an entrancing civilization, the soul of Japan. Was Nishikata’s pitilessly 
objective picture inconsistent with this? No, at bottom it was not. The 
shadowy picture of Mineko took on flesh and blood. 

I recalled a little episode I had heard about. Some years previously 
Giorgio had taken Mineko on a short visit to Europe. From every point 
of view it had turned out a disaster. She had taken a violent dislike to 
Italy; at Naples, where Giorgio’s parents lived, she hardly ever went 



262 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

out of the house; she was disgusted by the dirt, the sentimental 
exhibitionism, the butcher's shops. She felt as if she had married 
a Basuto or a Yemeni tribesman, and said so. One day Giorgio’s 
mother invited some friends to the house to meet her exotic daughter- 
in-law. Wishing it to be a surprise, she merely asked Mineko to wear 
a kimono at such-and-such a time. When Mineko appeared in the 
drawing-room in her kimono, with an obi (sash) round her waist which 
she had chosen with the most painstaking care in some shop in the 
Nishi Ginza, she took one look round her, walked straight out of the 
room without speaking to anyone, and locked herself in her bedroom, 
from which she did not emerge till next day. She gave no explanation 
whatever of her behaviour, and merely sulked; for once even Giorgio, 
the great orientalist, the subtle psychologist, the acrobat of the twenty- 
six civilizations, was unable to pour oil on the ruffled waters. Mineko 
shut up like an oyster; all she wanted was to go back to Japan. t Napori 
wa iya' (Naples doesn't suit me), she repeated with childlike obstinacy. 

Years later, in Tokyo, I heard the other side of the story. I was 
talking to Abe-san, trying to find out what sort of picture she had 
formed in her mind of Italy through her mistress’s eyes, and as a result 
of daily contact with Giorgio and his friends. The picture was not very 
flattering. Its three principal features were the dirt (were there really 
people who bathed only once a week?); the laziness (‘she said there were 
people who actually didn't get up till nine o’clock and then had a 
hiru-ne, a snooze, in the afternoon !'); and finally the selfishness (everyone 
thought in the first place of himself and no one cared two hoots for his 
kimi-iuhkoto , his country). Then the kimono story came out. ‘When she 
suddenly found herself in a drawing-room full of people, she felt she 
was being put on show, like a rare animal in a circus, and she was 
mortally offended.’ 

‘But, after all, Abe-san, your mistress was a little difficult, don’t you 
think?’ I remarked. 

'She had the right to be. Don’t you know that she was a great 
poet? Haven’t you seen how many books she wrote? Well, then, her 
feelings deserved to be respected !’ 

So much for Abe-san and her mistress. 

Nishikata-sensei went on to say that he had two important things 
to put to Giorgio, and he wanted my help in preparing the ground. The 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIEES N) 

first was the offer of an academic post, not very rewarding financially, 
to be sure, but that would improve with time. 

And the second! 

The professor drew nearer to me, lowered his voice, then fell silent. A 
shadow crossed his wrinkled brow ; conflicting thoughts obviously flashed 
through his mind. Perhaps I as a foreigner would not understand. 

Yes, the second thing, he at last went on. Well, a close friend of his 
at Kobe, a man of substance and of very great culture, who had spent 
many years abroad, had a daughter, aged about twenty-five, who would 
be just the thing for Giorgio. It was time he married again, dropped all 
the chimeras he had in his head, and thought about making a career in 
the field for which he was cut out. . . . There was still time if he acted 
quickly and liquidated his business affairs. In a year it would be too late. 

Nishikata looked at me. I noted with satisfaction that he was reas- 
sured by the calm with which I listened to him. In japan it is natural 
for anyone in a senior position to concern himself with all aspects of the 
life of anyone who is or has been entrusted to his care, particularly in 
the matter of matrimony. Nowadays ren-ai kekkon (love matches) are 
numerous, but miai kekkon (arranged marriages) are still perhaps just as 
numerous. Many of the latter are the work of nakodo, professional mar- 
riage brokers — readers will recall the nakodo in Madame Butterfly — but many 
others are the work of employers or heads of offices concerned for the 
welfare of their subordinates, or of professors, magistrates, colonels, 
heads of hospitals, elderly nobles, admirals, ambassadors, prefects, who 
on the appropriate occasion drop the few words necessary to arrange 
a future which, incidentally, often turns out to be very happy. 

I assured the professor that I should do all in my power to second 
his efforts to bring about Giorgio’s return to the academic world, to 
which I too believed that he really belonged. As for the young lady, I 
suggested that a meeting be arranged without telling him anything in 
advance. If a spark were to strike, it would have to be spontaneous. 
I knew Giorgio too well to believe that he would take to a girl proposed, 
not to say imposed, on him. In many ways Giorgio was more oriental 
than the orientals, but in others, for instance his ferocious cult of 
personal independence, he was more western than the whole of the 
west combined. 



264 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Next day Giorgio turned up in Kyoto in his characteristic, unex- 
pected fashion. He telephoned me from the Miyako, ‘the Grand Hotel 
of the Capital’. There was no trace of strain or nervousness about him; 
on the contrary he was bursting with cheerfulness and vitality, the 
very epitome of confidence and self-assurance. He was accompanied 
by Enrico and Abe-san, who was all bows and smiles. During lunch 
I tried to elicit some information about Tamako, but found myself up 
against a brick wall. Instead I was given some spontaneous informa- 
tion of another kind. 

‘Do you know who wishes to be remembered to you? You’ll never 
guess— Jane !’ 

Jane was the American girl whom I had met at Nara. 

‘How is she? Do you see her occasionally? She’s charming. What 
a pity she’s so plain t’ 

‘Yes, but beauty’s very dangerous; it goes to the head. Plain women 
are full of surprises!’ 

A jochu-san brought the fruit. Kyoto lay at our feet, and beyond lay 
the Eastern Hills and the temples of Yoshida-yama (‘Mount Happy 
Held’). It was a serene and delightful spectacle. I remembered how the 
night before, on the little terrace over the river, I thought I had made 
up my mind to talk to Giorgio. Now it was totally out of the question. 

The Transformation of Little-South 

This morning I called on the professor who teaches Italian language 
and literature at the University. Some lectures must just have ended; 
students in their mournful black uniforms came streaming out, talking 
and laughing. Many wore glasses; bad light at home and too small 
ideograms in their books impose a strain on their eyes from childhood. 
In passing many of them greeted the professor with a deep bow and 
a nervous smile. 

How different Japanese students are from our own ! Their docility 
is extraordinary; the problem of discipline does not exist, or at any rate 
did not in my time. Now one reads occasionally of students’ strikes, and 
even of violence towards their teachers, but these things are exceptions, 
due to the general confusion of the post-war years. In the east a teacher 
possesses an authority of a nature entirely different to that to which we 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIE&S 


26S 

arc accustomed. The western professor is in the last resort descended 
from the Greek rhetor, transformed by Renaissance humanism; he 
is a specialist in a single branch of knowledge. The sharp division be- 
tween sacred and profane which is characteristic of our civilization is 
reflected in this sphere too. Moral and spiritual authority was for cen- 
turies the monopoly of the Church, and the moral and spiritual guid- 
ance of the young still tends to a large extent to be entrusted to priests, 
pastors, or archimandrites rather than to schoolmasters and professors. 
In the east, whether in the Confucian sphere of influence, where the ju, 
the man of letters, prevailed, or in the Indian and Buddhist sphere, where 
the master has always been the guru, the guide to enlightenment and 
transcendental knowledge, the teacher has been surrounded by an aura 
which is closer to mystic transcendentalism than to the mere respect 
du* to one who possesses greater knowledge or skill. ‘Your father and 
mother are like the sky and the earth, your master is like the sun,’ 
a maxim says. 

When a Japanese student says 'sensei-ga osshaemashita' (the master said 
so), it is as if he were quoting an oracle ; the matter is settled, and that is 
that. As against this, teachers and professors generally try to live as far 
as possible as if they were following a vocation ; the best of them at any 
rate take very seriously their task of the total guidance of youth. In 
Japanese sensei means literally ‘born before’, i.e„ senior, presbyter, priest; 
thus words sometimes complete the circle and bring us back to the 
starting-point. 

Another important fact is that in Japan, as in many other eastern 
countries, society is based on the implicit assumption that the ideal 
season of life is not youth, but age. Westerners, having but one short 
life to burn up, with a divine judgment looming at the end of it, 
and for other complex reasons as well, have almost continually laid 
emphasis on youth; the extreme example is America, where old men 
and women pathetically ape the ways and manners of the young. In 
Japan there is nothing of all this; the old have no need to imitate, to 
pretend, to justify themselves; they leave their affairs to their eldest son 
or son-in-law and set about enjoying the autumnal pleasures of art or 
thought, of good living, with the calm assurance of being thoroughly 
entitled to do so. And if any old gentleman wants to have a fling, people 
smile, and say: ‘Look how sprightly the old chap is!’ In Japan the gay 



266 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

quarters are in fact much more frequented by old gentlemen on the 
spree than by young men. 

Thus the young grow up in the unquestionably burdensome 
shadow of their fathers and grandfathers. For this reason, among others, 
they seem much more childish, much less mature in some respects, than 
their counterparts in Europe or America. Perhaps they obscurely feel 
that there is plenty of time, that they are living through a mere passing 
phase in a great cycle, and that one day their personality will be able to 
expand and fulfil itself, even if only in the failing light of sunset. On the 
other hand, because of the repression to which they are subjected, their 
deprivations, humiliations, poverty, they reveal to those who succeed 
in gaining their confidence interior riches, particularly emotional 
riches, rarely to be found in young westerners who have grown up in 
a freer atmosphere. Two significant facts are that many Japanese univer- 
sity students are virgins , 1 i.e., their sex life is either repressed or dis- 
torted, and that suicides are numerous,* which implies excessive 
emotional difficulties. 

This introverted life, all obstacles and difficulties, is made the 
harder to bear by the low public esteem in which students are held. The 
word gakusei (student) has derogatory implications; a student is a person 
who owes everything to society and his parents, and to whom nobody 
owes anything; the hideous black uniform tends still further to identify 
and isolate them. A Japanese does not fully become a man until he has 
put his studies behind, has married, and occupies a position of at least 
a minimum of responsibility; to become a man really worthy of respect 
he generally has to wait until he is about forty. A son’s dependence on 
his father, a pupil’s dependence on his teacher, is such that situations 
arise which to our way of thinking seem totally absurd. Thus I heard 
recently of a learned professor who could not publish his theories, 
though he had most interesting things to say, because they conflicted 
with what had been said twenty years earlier by his master, aged eighty, 
who was still alive. 

Though the student stands so low in the general estimation, the 
prestige of the academic world, from the humblest lecturer to the 
supreme luminary of any branch of knowledge, is high. This is in part 

1 See, for example, T. Takahashi, Reports of Sexual Ex periences, Tokyo, 1933. 

■ See, for example, Asaki Even in g News, Tokyo, various articles in 1996. 



AESTHETES AND SOLD1EES *7 

due to the influence of Buddhism, with its emphasis on right know- 
ledge, but it is above all due to Confucianism, according to which a good 
man of letters makes a good governor, and Wee versa. Apart from the 
closed caste of the nobility, only the army and navy used to enjoy 
higher prestige. The place of the soldier in Japanese life was (and, let 
there be no mistake about it, might again become) entirely different 
from that which it is in our own. Let me remind the reader of what 
1 have said above about the different boundaries of the sacred and pro- 
fane in east and west. Every member of the armed forces, the humblest 
naval rating, aircraftman, or private soldier, was a representative of the 
Emperor, that is to say, of the supreme peak to which the whole life of 
the nation, both sacred and profane, converged. A recruit was not just 
a citizen in arms; like the knights-members of certain mediaeval orders, 
hr was entitled to consider himself a member of a church. ( It is the duty 
of the warrior to resemble a monk who lives in obedience to a rule' 
(Sasaki Sadatsuna, twelfth century). 

I shall never forget Ko-minami-san, or ‘Little-South’ as his name 
means and as we used playfully to call him. Little-South was, however, 
a big and robust youth, much stronger and sturdier than most of his 
pale, often rickety, and nearly always bespectacled companions. He was 
a medical student, and therefore not my pupil ; 1 met him, I think, at 
a concert at the Franco-Japanese House of Culture. Knowing that I was 
fond of ski-ing, he offered to accompany me on expeditions into the 
mountains round Kyoto; we went to Hanase, the Makino, and the top 
of Ibuki, with its steep and exciting slopes. He was devoted to music, and 
had a really exceptional knowledge of the eighteenth-century masters; 
it was the period when Vivaldi was being rediscovered, and when we 
managed to get a new record his enthusiasm knew no bounds. In con- 
trast to the conformism which prevailed at the time, Little-South 
showed great independence in his tastes, his reading, and his sympathies. 
He wanted to win scholarships to enable him to travel, and he hoped to 
go to Europe. ‘I am in the first place a citizen of the world, and only in 
the second place a citizen of Japan,' he used to say. He read Gide and 
Huxley in the original; that may not seem very daring now, but at that 
time, when the general reading was expurgated translations from the 
German, it was evidence of a decidedly independent and liberal attitude. 

Regional differences in Japan are far less marked than they are with 



268 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

us; the homogeneity of the country reflects the whole unifying trend 
of their history. Apart from the two poles, Kwanto (Tokyo-Yokohama) 
and Kwansai (Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe), there is little differentiation. The 
people of the north, Tohoku, are poor, rural, tenacious, and of the 
south, Kyushu, rich, industrious, prone to enthusiasms or violence, and 
have jo-netsu-teki (passionate, inflammable minds). Ko-minami came from 
Kyushu, and all the explosive energy of his island of volcanoes and steel- 
works and rice-fields that yield two crops a year was evident in his black 
eyes, which were capable of looking at you with almost trance-like 
fury. 

One day he disappeared; I was told that he had been called up. 
About six months later he came to see me in officers uniform, which 
he wore with rare elegance; a katana, the samurai’s sword, hung from his 
side. Seeing him transformed in this fashion, I thought that he must be 
protesting in the only way he could. I should explain that Japanese 
officers used to display the utmost contempt for their personal appear- 
ance; anything else would have been effeminate. Your true samurai 
never brushes his hair; alternately he shaves it offlike a Buddhist hermit; 
as he is ready to die at any moment, what is the point of personal adorn- 
ment! However, I realized from Little-South’s first words that he 
had undergone a complete inner transformation, even if his outward 
appearance belied it. There was the same frank, delightful smile, the 
same enthusiasm, but they were now directed elsewhere, in the direc- 
tion which in our many talks we had always despised. The hour of our 
destiny has come,’ he said, saluting me. ‘England, France, America, are 
rotten, and are ready to fall. If his Majesty the Emperor called on us, we 
should all be ready to die to bring about the hakko-ichiu' (the ‘Eight 
Directions of Space under a Single Roof *). 1 Years later I learnt that 
Little-South died in the southern seas from which his ancestors had 
come centuries ago. I have no doubt that he died bravely. 

The Myth of the Sword 

What were the deep forces that brought about the change in Little- 
South! It is time to talk about a side of Japanese civilization with which 
everyone is familiar, a side that is sometimes so predominant and spec- 

• In other words, ‘the whole world under the guidance of the Emperor of Japan*. 



aesthetes and soldiers 


269 

tacular as to persuade many that it springs from the quintessential 
character of a people who, as we have seen, are rich in other gifts; I mean 
the cult of martial heroism. 

The history of Japan, taken as a whole, is like a symphonic poem. 
So far, apart from the overture for gods, nature, and man, we have had 
Asuka, Nara, and Heian; Asuka, the window on to the world; Nara, the 
serene and Greek; Heian, the recluse, the exquisite, languid with per- 
fection. With 1185 and Kamakura everything suddenly changes; voices, 
instruments, timbre, and key; even the players no longer seem the same. 
Gilded wood and silk give way to horses and iron, delicate harmonies 
and nocturnal intrigue to strength, decision, and death. The warriors 
had shaken off the courtiers* yoke, and the whole of Japanese life, from 
the system of government to habits of everyday life, from art to love, 
fri.n religion to economics, was profoundly modified in accordance 
with the tastes of the new men. ‘We shall have no such dramatic transi- 
tion again in Japanese history as the shift from twelfth-century delicacy 
and aestheticism to the virile, boisterous period of Kamakura from the 
end of the twelfth through the fourteenth century . 1 

The question arises whether the true, the real, Japan was that of the 
Nara and Heian centuries, or that of the period we are to deal with now. 
There is no doubt of the contrast between them; they were opposites in 
everything. It is also true that since the fatal year 1185, apart from a few 
brief periods, the ultimate, supreme power in the state has been in the 
hands of soldiers; it was only yesterday that they plunged half the world 
in war. On the other hand, if Japanese history is looked at more care- 
fully, it will be seen that it does not consist of the exclusive predomin 
ance of one aspect over the other, but of a predominance of co-existent 
elements in ever-changing relationship. The conclusion is that both 
aspects, the fundamentally pacific aspect, that of refinement in the art 
of living and enthusiasm for knowledge and beauty, and the funda- 
mentally warlike aspect, an extreme refinement in barbarism and a 
terrifying enthusiasm for an ideal absorbed to the point of complete 
identification with it, form part of the complex Japanese personality 
revealed to us through the centuries. 

A brief digression. Do peoples change! It would seem that they do 
not. The more one reads ancient accounts and descriptions, the more 
• L WAKNia, m EM * Art ofJ * m , Harvard, 19*. p. J* 



270 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

one is struck by the permanence of certain characteristics. The Germans 
of Tacitus, the Milanese of Bonvesin da Riva, the Russians of Custine, 
the Americans of Tocqueville, the Indians of HsUan-tsang, the Japanese 
of St. Francis Xavier, might, apart from such minor details as dress, etc., 
have been observed by their authors at the present day. The explanation 
is exceedingly simple; it is the extraordinary antiquity of man, which we 
are only now beginning to realize. History as we know it throws light 
only on the protruding pinnacles of huge icebergs, the vast mass of 
which remains invisible beneath the surface of time. Prehistorians now 
believe that the remarkable palaeolithic paintings found in Europe date 
back to a period between 28,000 and 10,000 years ago; and what a long, 
slow evolution may not have preceded those extraordinary examples of 
artistic ability. So far as most of the important things in our life are con- 
cerned, we are governed by attitudes, preferences, internal reconstruc- 
tions of reality, the roots of which are lost in inconceivable abysses of 
time. History goes back two, three, five thousand years, but we, ten, 
twenty, thirty thousand years ago, and perhaps even earlier still, had 
our gods and our wars, made love, fashioned things, made agreements, 
undertook complicated courses of action. What we are, our interior 
world, was determined over a huge period of time, and real changes 
take place so slowly as to be almost imperceptible in the short course of 
written history. 

But to return to Kamakura. It is unnecessary here even briefly to 
follow its complicated story . 1 It was the period of the Japanese high 
Middle Ages, which has always been the delight of the Japanese heroic 
chroniclers. It was a time of war and bloodshed, picturesque customs, 
heroism and cruelty. Only in such an age could there flourish men — to 
take but one example— such as Yoshitsune (1159-1189), the story of whose 
legendary deeds and loves, and sad end due to the jealousy of his brother 
Yoritomo, have moved the Japanese for centuries; or women like 
Masako, Yoritomo’s wife (1157-1225), who grew up among battles, flights, 
conspiracies, and by her astuteness, charm, and decisive character 
became such a power behind the scenes that after her retirement to 
a convent she came to be known as Ama-Shogun (‘Abbess Military 
Governor’); or warriors such as Taira no Tadanori (1144-1184), in whose 

1 The most Important event was the failure of the attempted invasions by Kublai in 



ftw ex-emperors 
rvtirad to religious 
life 


Go-Ude 
aged 37 


Sl' l COURTV^ 

I Regent r* 

I (Kampaku) I 
1 and civilian M 
hlerarchy^^ 

Power limited to the 
capital and Immediate 
surroundings 


GO-NUO 
Emperor 
1301-1307 
aged 19 


* HISA-AKIRA ^ 
(Prince of the 
Imperial blood) 
Shogun from 
. 1289 to 1306 A 


l Go-Fushimi 1 

i y 


THE EMPEROR was essentially 
a sacerdotal figure, having in 
his possession the three divine 
symbols, the mirror, the sword 
and the Jewel. He delegated all 
power to the shogun 


SHOGUN, military governor. 
In 1226 this became a purely 
formal office, and power was 
delegated to the Shlkken 


r HOJO SADATOKI > 
ex-shikken, had retired 
tothe religious life under 
the name of Soen. He 
was the real governorof 
.Japan from 1284 to 131 ij 


r hojo ] 

TAKATOKI J 


A child aged one. 
was to succeed 
Morotokl In 1308 


HOJO 

MOROTOKI 

Shlkken 

1301-1308 


SHIKKEN, high commissioner. 
This too became a sinecure 
In the case of Hojo Morotokl; 
the effective power was 
exercised by the ex-shikken 
Hojo Sadatokl, who had 
retired to the religious life 
under the name of Soen 


How Japan was governed in ixm, when the principle of the delegation of powers 
had reached its peak of complexity 


272 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

helmet after his death there was found a bundle of poems, including 
this: 


Now the night descends; 

My hostelry 

Is the shadow of a cherry-tree; 

My host 

A flower. 

Here is at any rate one aspect of the new spirit that began to prevail; 
a cult of simplicity and heroism succeeded the aestheticism of the 
courtiers and nobles of Kyoto. 

Historians are generally agreed in regarding the Kamakura govern- 
ment as an improvement on the direct administration of Kyoto. True, 
the hereditary incapacity of the nobles had in the course of centuries 
brought things to such a pass that almost any change was bound to be 
for the better. But the founders of the bakufu , the ‘camp government’, 
and their successors administered the country with a paternalism which, 
if it was sometimes hard, sometimes capriciously easy-going, was always 
swift-acting and practical, as was to be expected of soldiers in their more 
tolerable incarnations. 

These were empirical times. After the Taikwa reform of 645 Japan 
presented the spectacle of the decline and fall of a beautiful political 
theory, that of the Chinese philosophers, partially and therefore badly 
applied to a nation of totally different social traditions. This culminated 
in the Kamakura period. The Taikwa reform, as Sansom points out, was 
an attempt to adapt facts to ideas; the Kamakura military government 
tried instead to produce ideas to fit the facts. It did not start with theories, 
but improvised solutions as events required. The history of England 
provides an interesting parallel. 

Typical of the period was the legal code adopted by the Kamakura 
Council of State of 1232 called the Joei Shikimoku ('Collection of Laws of the 
Joei Period*). It was not based on any theory of law, but was rather a col- 
lection of maxims for the guidance of judges and administrators which 
for purely practical reasons came to be more and more widely adopted; 
in fact what had started by being the family charter of the House of 
Minamoto became law valid for the whole of Japan. 

The result of this military empiricism, combined with the innate 
















A 






AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS Tjy 

Japanese respect for tradition, was a system of government so compU- 
cated that it is one of the curiosities of history. The frequent abdica t ions 
of those in prominent positions, the delegation of power, the interplay 
of individuals, in a short space of time produced an astonishing state of 
affairs which can be made clear only with the aid of a diagram (ns 
page 271). The emperors delegated their power to the shoguns but, after 
the death of Yorimoto’s sons and as a result of the intrigues of Masako, 
these too became purely ornamental figures. The exercise of power 
passed to a third dynasty, that of the shiUe n (high commissioners) drawn 
from Masako’s family, the H 5 j 5 . 

The delegation of power, which was carried to such absurd extremes 
towards the end of the Kamakura period, is still to be found everywhere 
in Japanese politics, business, and family life, and is frequently a serious 
ca . -ce of incomprehension by foreigners of many of the facts of Japanese 
life. Similarly the formulation of the Japanese concept of law dates back 
in essence to these centuries. Fundamentally only the Emperor had any 
rights; all others enjoyed them only as a concession granted from above. 
Under the influence of these beliefs, the feudal administration promul- 
gated laws which not only remained practically unknown to the people 
but in some cases were actually considered secrets of state. 

However, the chief heritage of the iron centuries was what was once 
called kyuba no michi (‘the way of the bow and the horse’), and was later 
re-christened bushi-do (‘the way of the warrior'). In the narrow sense of 
a codified body of teaching and a particular outlook on life, there is no 
doubt that bushido forms part of the great movement quietly initiated by 
a group of eighteenth-century scholars and men of letters, of whom 
Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769), Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), and Hirata 
Atsutane (1776-1843) were the chief. It reached its apogee with the 1868 
revolution and the reign of the Emperor Meiji, and was finally broken 
by the violent follies and tragedies of the third and fourth decades of this 
century. The name bushido seems to be very modem. According to 
Sansom 1 it was known in the eighteenth century, but its use was very 
limited, and Chamberlain 1 says that ‘the very word appears in no 
dictionary, native or foreign, before the year 1900’. 

But, if the use of the term is very modem, the nucleus of ideas on 

* G. B. SttmMt.Jqpm, a Start Cubarat HUurj, London, mi, p. 4*7. 

•B. H. Qumhium, London and Kobe, mm, p. w. 

8 



274 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

which it is based is very ancient Not only do the Japanese appear to have 
been warlike from the earliest times of which there is historical or 
archaeological evidence but a s Sansom says, there is reason to believe 
tfiat the relationship of total mystic dedication between vassal and lord, 
between the samurai and his chief, dates back to the patriarchal system 
of pre-feudal and even prehistoric times. 

The spiritual content of the ‘way’ is indicated by the concept of 
giri (moral obligation), the duty that ties man to the Emperor, his 
superiors, equals, and inferiors; its nature is indicated by the concept of 
chugi (loyalty). Giri and chugi are the pillars on which the whole structure 
of bushido rests. Soldiers, men of action, do not favour complicated 
philosophies; a few simple, profoundly felt, ideas are always preferred 
to subtle or complicated theories. In literature and the theatre, both of 
which are a reflection of life, the plot is nearly always based on a conflict 
between giri (duty) and ninjo (human feeling). The same conflict often 
appears in the Japanese cinema. I was recently told by an acquaintance 
that before the war it was always giri that triumphed. Now the boot was 
on the other foot, and ninjo had started to get the upper hand. The terms 
of the emotional dialectics remain the same. 1 

In the course of time a whole mystique, a whole philosophy of life, 
gathered round the original nucleus. The links with recognized philo- 
sophies, particularly with Confucianism, became clearer. However, 
while in China, as has many times been observed, more importance was 
attached to filial piety (ho) than to loyalty towards leaders and kings 
(chu), in Japan the reverse was the case. Loyalty to one’s lord was always 
an absolute imperative, about which there could be no discussion. 

The ideal samurai was also guided by wisdom (chi), benevolence 
(jin), and valour (yu). 

Wisdom did not mean knowledge; the aim was the intense living of 
what were considered to be supreme and eternal ethical principles. It is 
here that there lies the bridge between the samurai and Zen Buddhism. 
We shall discuss Zen Buddhism later; here we shall mention only that 
this variety of Buddhism, which differs notably from the others, almost 
completely repudiates all the work of the intellect and all teaching 

1 A Japanese friend points out that a change has taken place In the meaning of nhgS, Before the 
war Its primary meaning was mercifulness, magnanimity, love of one's neighbour; now It has 
acquired another, more western meaning, that of respect for the human personality. 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIERS 275 

contained in books; the ultimate truth is not to be attained by the mind 
working in isolation, but is something which you have to live with your 
whole being. 

Benevolence implied pity for the conquered and the weak. The 
ideal samurai had to be magnanimous as well as strong and courageous. 
In later centuries he was expected to cultivate thetea ceremony, one of 
the few occasions on which he laid aside his sword. He was, of course, 
devoted to music and poetry. Nitobe observes, with some exaggeration: 
'What Christianity has done in Europe towards rousing compassion in 
the midst of belligerent horrors love of music and letters has done in 
Japan .' 1 Beauty consisted essentially of purity of line, colour, feelings, 
sounds, actions, a principle that has left lasting and profoundly favour- 
able effects on Japanese taste. Luxury, display, softness, were reprehen- 
s ’ le in all their forms. 

Finally, the supreme measure of personality was courage, valour, 
but this must be combined with serenity and composure. Flinging one- 
self headlong into danger was not considered worthy of a bushi (warrior). 
‘True courage is to live when it is right to live, and to die only when it is 
right to die.’ The samurai was expected always to maintain perfect calm, 
even when others were losing their heads, or rather, particularly when 
others were losing their heads. Most admired were those able calmly 
to read or recite a poem shortly before drawing their last breath; and 
every samurai was expected to be always ready to take his own life if 
circumstances required it. Every detail of the rite of seppuku 1 was meticu- 
lously laid down. 

You were born a samurai; you could not, except in the most excep- 
tional circumstances, become one. A samurai’s education was hard. He 
had to learn to betray not the slightest emotion, whether of joy, of fear; 
and learning the necessary degree of self-control took years. His word— 
bushi-rto ichi gon , ‘the single word of the warrior’— was sacred, and lying 

1 1. Nitobe, Bushido, Tokyo, 1900; many subsequent editions and translations. 

> Commonly known as hara-kiri , disembowelling oneself. The classic account of a seppuku is of 
that of Taki Zenzaburo, written by an eye-witness (Lord Redesdale). In isas, when Japanese public 
opinion was deeply divided about the desirability of the many innovations being introduced by 
the new government of the Emperor Meiji, Taki Zenzaburo, a vassal of the Prince of Bizen, gave 
orders to open fire on a party of foreigners in the port of Kobe (then Hyogo). By desire of the 
Emperor himself, Taki. as the individual responsible, was ordered to commit suicide. Seven foreign 
r epre s en tatives were invited to the self-execution ceremony. Stt Loan Rbdisdau. Tala of Old Japan, 
London, 1871; many subsequent editions. 



276 


Chi 

Wisdom 


MEETING WITH JAEAN 

or deception (ni-gon) meant death. The long training included fencing, 
archery, wrestling, riding, throwing the javelin, some idea of tactics, 
calligraphy, the study of ethics, literature, and history. At fifteen the 
samurai received his sword, one of those incom- 
parable instruments made by famous craftsmen to 
the accompaniment of prayers to the gods. There 
/pw was only one thing which the samurai must not 
understand, and that was the use of money. The sign 
pS of a really good education was inability to recognize 
the various coins in current circulation. A samurai 
would often work in his fields with the peasants, 
but he was rigorously forbidden to take any part in 
trade. 

This severe, if limited, ideal was not without a 
k certain magnificent, primitive beauty, and it inspired 

Jg innumerable deeds of extraordinary, if sometimes 

revolting, valour. The classic example is the story of 
W t h e forty-seven ronin, the ‘forty-seven wave men’, that 

is to say samurai, left without a lawful lord. 1 When 
they simultaneously committed seppuku in 1703 they 
concluded a tragic story full of all the elements 
dearest to the Japanese heart: summary justice, plot- 
ting, unshakable resolution, dissimulation long per- 
sisted in, revenge, final self-sacrifice. In 1748 a play, 
the Chushittgura, was made of their story. It is in eleven 
acts and takes all day to perform, and since it was first 
produced it has remained the pike it risistcmce of the 
Japanese theatre, whether in its complete, original 
form or in one of the innumerable shorter versions. 
Theatrical managers say that when you are doing 
badly you must put on the Chushinguru and you will fill 
the house again. 

Another notable suicide, nearer to our own day, carried out with 
all the ceremonial required by protocol, was that of General Nogi, the 
conqueror of the Russians in the war of 1904* and of his wife— he was 

‘ The Japanese prefer to call them the forty-aeven guU ('just men'), because of the consistency 
of their conduct. 


> 

Benevolence 



YU 

Courage 

Valour 



AESTHETES AND SOLDIE1S 


277 

sixty-four and she ten years his junior— after the death of the Emperor 
Meiji in 1912, just at the time when the funeral procession was leaving 
the Imperial Palace. Next to the two corpses, dressed in the white 
kimonos which are dt rigueur on such occasions, a brief poem, written in 
ancient Japanese, was found. It said: 'My sovereign, abandoning this 
fleeting life, has ascended among the gods; with my heart full of grati- 
tude, I desire to follow him.’ The general and the Emperor had lived 
and fought together, and transformed Japan from an Asian state isolated 
and shut off from the world into a modern great power. If the general's 
self-immolation upon his master’s death is moving, what are we to say 
of his wife? In the last analysis he acted on his own free will, but she did 
not. How did they come to agree on their last act, maintaining complete 
secrecy? Did the old general, perhaps somewhat shamefacedly, simply 
s j to her: ‘I hn c decided to follow my master, would you like to come 
with me?' Or had there been a long-standing agreement between the 
two? Or — and this is the most plausible suggestion — was there no need 
to say anything at all? Perhaps things— so full of symbolism to the 
oriental mind — spoke their own terrible, silent message: a ko-gatana, the 
short dagger, the last weapon of self-defence when all else has gone, 
placed on the empty mat; a crystalline imperative surrounded by mu 
(infinite nothing.) 

It is intelligible that this sort of thing should exercise a strong 
fascination for certain types of generous, sensitive, and at the same time 
virile mind. Following an ethic of this kind means maintaining a con- 
stant and difficult equilibrium. One false step and you relapse into 
barbarism, gratuitous violence, theatricality, flagrant injustice, or patho- 
logical masochism. After looking at the ideal, after admitting that in 
the course of centuries the elect were many, it must be admitted that 
there were more who made the system infamous. I shall return to this 
theme in a later chapter. For the time being it is sufficient to have 
attempted an explanation of how it was possible for such a change to 
have come about in the mind of my friend Little-South, a change that 
was so total as at first sight to seem incomprehensible. 



9 

Wisdom in a Grain of Sand 


Zen Monastery 

W hen I first visited Kyoto many years ago I noticed that the fascina- 
tion of the temples of the Shingon sect lay in a certain air of 
mystery, intensified by the half-light of the chapels, which suggested 
the sensations of fear and voluptuousness roused by the Iha-kang (‘dwell- 
ings of the gods’) in Tibet; that the feature of the Tendai temples was 
their severe solemnity; and that that of those of the later Amida cult 
was a magnificence that was nearly always free of vulgarity. But the 
temples by the beauty of which I was most impressed either belonged 
to the Zen cult or had undergone its influence. 

They were generally huge. I should really speak of monasteries 
rather than of temples. The word ‘temple’ (tera, ji), as the reader will 
have noticed, implies in Japanese a whole complex of buildings, which 
in the case of Zen include the great gateway at the entrance (sammon); 
the chapel of the Buddha, or temple proper (butsudm); the sermon hall 
(hatto); the hall of meditation (zendo); the abbot’s residence, the refectory, 
and the bath. In the case of the older sects there were generally one or 
more pagodas, a low bell-tower, a treasury, a library, as well as chapels 
and pavilions dedicated to various celestial personages. Gardens, roads, 
and park, which gave an organic unity to the various elements, aesthetic 
as well as administrative and ecclesiastical, also belonged to the temple. 

In Zen monasteries this fusion of nature and the work of man 
continually reaches the heights of perfection. In the Kyoto area alone 
it is sufficient to mention the Nanzen-ji or the Tofuku-ji, hidden in the 

178 




WISDOM IN A GEAIN OP SAND 


W9 


pines at the foot of the Eastern Mount, or the Shokoku-ji, the Daitoku-ji, 
and the Myoshin-ji on the north-western outskirts of the andent 
capital, each one of which is like a little town in which you could easily 
lose your way among winding lanes bordered by walls covered with 
grass, moss, and wild flowers; every now and then you come to a door, 
hear the sound of a bell, or an invisible voice rhythmically reading 
aloud from a sacred text. In these miniature townships are hidden works 
of art, which you approach barefoot, after walking long distances down 
corridors or along verandas, discovering unsuspected gardens, some- 
times bowers of stones and flowers, sometimes big parks. If it is spring, 
cherry and wistaria will be in bloom, if autumn the mmiji will be red; 
at other seasons the scene is dominated by the evergreen pines, gnarled 
even in their youth, juicy with adolescent vigour even in age. 

Today we went to the Tenryu-ji, the Temple of the Celestial 
Dragon, some miles from the centre of the city at the foot of the Wes- 
tern Mountains, near the Arashi-yama. Later the sky cleared and the 
sun shone brightly, but when we reached the temple the sky had the 
mother-of-pearl quality that a high veil of cloud sometimes gives it in 
autumn; you notice, if you pay it a moment’s attention, that the dif- 
fused light brings out the colours of the landscape in an extraordinary 
fashion. At the ancient, solemn gateway that marks the entrance to the 
park we exclaimed with delight at the sight of the mmiji , their leaves 
aflame with every shade of red, mingled with the green needles of the 
pines. On the right was a long row of minor temples, each with its 
garden and dwelling. An elderly woman, wearing a large conical straw 
hat, was sweeping up the fallen leaves; otherwise there was no one to b r 
seen. Silence would have dominated the valley but for the sound of 
some horrible Japanese jazz-style songs from a loudspeaker somewhere 
in the distance. In front of us lay the central buildings of the monastery, 
built in the style characteristic of the Muromachi period, their white 
walls broken by the timber skeleton of the structure. The effect was 
curiously like the English half-timbered style, or what the Germans call 
Fachwerk. 

We mounted some steps, and came to the entrance proper. Every 
detail, the gravel in the park, the wood of the walls, the whitewash, the 
way the trees were kept pruned^even the moss growing in places where 
the shade favoured it, betrayed the constant care lavished on the place, 



280 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

guided by the most scrupulous taste. Enemy number one was super- 
fluous decoration, display, vulgarity; most favoured were things like 
spades and bill-hooks, everything that suggested useful work connected 
with the soil, closeness to nature and to the essence of things. One of the 
distinguishing features of Zen Buddhism, as we shall see later, is the 
integration of spiritual and everyday life. There is therefore nothing 
strange in finding an abbot or famous theologian (if I may be pardoned 
that inappropriate expression) hoeing, painting, pruning, cutting wood 
for the fire, or repairing tiles on the roof. 'No work, no food’ has been 
the monastic rule ever since the times of the Chinese patriarch Pai- 
chang (in Japanese Hyakujd, 720-814). 

This morning, however, we found no theologians engaged in 
housework or abbots busy with a hoe; instead we were kept waiting 
a long time at the gate, calling out ‘Gomen kudasai! Gomett kudasai !’ (May we 
come ini May we come ini) Eventually a tall, thin monk appeared, and 
looked at us crossly over his spectacles; he evidently considered 
foreigners incapable of appreciating the subtleties of oriental beauty. 
We silently removed our shoes, put on slippers, and entered the temple 
proper, which looks out on to the garden. Meanwhile the sun had come 
out, and we started filming, trying to capture some of the magic of the 
place. At first the tall monk followed us, grumbling, but then, seeing 
that we chose points of view that fitted in with his esoteric tastes, he 
took us under his wing, and we were given the freedom of the place. 

This, like many other Kyoto temples, for instance the Silver Pavilion 
(Ginkaku-ji), the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), the Nanzen-ji, and the 
Daikaku-ji, was originally built as a villa, in this case apparently by the 
Emperor Saga in the ninth century. Ashikaga Takauji, who established 
a new dynasty of shoguns early in the fourteenth century, then trans- 
formed it into a place of meditation, employing for this purpose a 
famous personage of the time, Mus5 Kokushi, 1 who was prelate, philo- 
sopher and artist, gardener, poet and calligrapher, as well as skilful 
statesman behind the scenes in the oriental manner. The shogun’s aims 
in founding this monastery were political as well as religious; he wished 


1 Bom U75. died ij#. During his lifetime he was called Chlkaku and iubsequently ( aftera dream 
which affected his whole career, SosekL Musd, meaning 'Window-Dream', U., *Window on to the 
Dream', was the name given him posthumously. KohaM is a title of great honour given to only a 
few exceptional men; it might be translated 'Master of the Nation*. 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 2Sl 

to strengthen Zen Buddhism to counter the excessive power of the 
Tendai monks barricaded on Mount Hiei who, like the monks of Nara, 
were a continual source of embarrassment to the government 

Ashikaga Takauji’s intention was that the Temple of the Celestial 
Dragon should eventually become the parent institution of a whole 
network of interconnected monasteries throughout Japan, but this 
ambitious plan remained on paper. Indeed, the inauguration of the 
new temple was vigorously opposed by the monks of Mount Hiei. The 
Emperor was to have attended the ceremony in person but, in view of 
the threats of violence by both sides, prudently decided to send a repre- 
sentative. The monks of Mount Hiei descended in force with their 
sacred palanquins, resistance to which was equivalent to sacrilege, and 
demanded that Mus 5 should be sent into exile and the new temple 
c .smantled. F< tunately the shogun succeeded in persuading them to 
return to their wooded fastness, with the result that Muso's work 
survived for the pleasure of posterity. The temple itself was several times 
destroyed by fire, and the present building was erected in 1900, but the 
garden is one of the most exquisite in Japan and in the world (Photo- 
graph 92). 

Originally the garden was built on the Chinese, Tang dynasty, 
model; i.e., the centre-piece was a lake, with islets, bridges, pavilions on 
the bank. The Japanese of the Heian period (ninth to twelfth centuries) 
enthusiastically developed all the possibilities of this. To them a garden 
was primarily a background for the brilliant spectacle of court life; 
barges sailed on the lake, while on the banks courtiers and their ladies 
beguiled the fleeting hour with poetry and song. 

During the Kamakura period (twelfth to fourteenth centuries) the 
impact of the Zen philosophy brought about profound changes in 
Japanese life, and the new influence can be discerned in every sphere of 
art. Japanese gardens had been ‘gay and refined, open and full of sun*; 1 
they were now invaded by ever more serious and important philo- 
sophical meanings. Carefree times of peace had been followed by years 
of bloodshed, retirement meant meditation, searching for a reason for 
life, and this meant searching inside oneself. A garden was no longer 
a place for pagan pleasures, but a means of entering into communion 
with the secrets of life and death. 

1 L E Kucx, Om Htmdnd Kyoto (Mm, London, 19*. 



282 


MEETING ▼ITH JAPAN 

Zen shares with most schools of Buddhism, and a large body of 
oriental philosophy, the belief that the key to understanding of the 
universe lies in the overcoming of all illusory dualisms— self and non- 
self, life and death, good and evil, matter and spirit. What does death 
matter if the universe survives! What differentiates Zen from the others 
is its rejection of all reliance on the intellect. Enlightenment, it holds, is 
to be reached in a flash of intuition. One of the best aids to the merging, 
the sublimation, of the self into the all is held to be a garden, which is far 
more important than treatises, syllogisms, or sacred books. Hence some 
of the best minds of Asia devoted themselves to garden design. During 
the Heian period gardens were conceived as places in which things were 
intended to happen, but those of the Kamakura and Muromachi cen- 
turies were designed to have symbolic value. Their size was reduced, the 
lake became a pool, or its place was taken by white sand as a symbol of 
water. The whole was arranged to be looked at from a few vantage 
points at which you stood and meditated. 

The garden of the Celestial Dragon can be said to be half-way 
between the innocent, sunny gardens of the most ancient times and 
the sometimes excessively tormented gardens of later times. It consists 
essentially of a pool at the foot of a thickly wooded hill over which the 
clouds sail. There are few flowers; an eastern garden is not nature 
dominated and tamed by man, but nature absorbing and sublimating 
man. Flowers are therefore too few to draw excessive attention to 
themselves; there are only those that might be found there if the place 
were not a garden, but an uninhabited valley. The fundamental ele- 
ments are rocks, trees, and water. The supreme aim is, while shunning 
anything trite or insipid, to permit no casual association of one thing 
with any other, and at the same time to ensure tbat the hand of man 
shall nowhere be perceptible. Thus a garden is a place of privilege for 
things, where they can expand, supplementing and setting each other 
off in the play of light and reflection, living with the rhythm of the 
seasons and the hours. It is a place of things invited to communion with 
man. There is no human pride; a Zen garden is not a place where man 
displays his virtuosity as the lord of creation, but a place where rock 
invites to ecstasy, water to tenderness, tree to thoughtfulness. All limits 
are abolished; the ultimate wisdom, Buddha, is to be found in a grain 
of sand. 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 283 

I walked round the little pool, stopped, walked on, bent down, 
touched the stones, breathed rock, thought rock, was rock; rock as 
a fragment of the world, or the flesh of heaven. One of many Zen 
sayings, speaking of the sage, who is naturally also a poet, is: 

Walking in the forest he does not disturb a blade of grass; 

Entering the water he does not cause the slightest ripple. 

In the oriental garden this supreme respect for nature has become 
a symphony. Every rock or stone has a meaning, in itself and in relation 
to everything else; in itself as shape, grain, surface; in relation to every- 
thing else by reason of its association with neighbouring objects, the 
angle at which it lies, its state of concealment or display. The stones are 
not chosen for their intrinsic value or rarity; the most beautiful things 
' - all about u< w ithout our noticing them. It is sufficient to Examine the 
bed of the nearest stream, stroll along the nearest beach, climb the 
nearest hillside, to find treasures scattered everywhere: rocks, stones, 
trees, leaves, moss. These humble things are then arranged in the 
garden so that we shall see them in a new light, revealing themselves in 
their true essence to the observer for the first time in his life. 

A young monk was carefully sweeping the sand round the temple. 
Every now and then we caught each other's eye. Once he passed near 
us, stopped, smiled, and said: 

‘Maraini-san, you will never understand the whole secret of the 
Celestial Dragon. But you do well to try!' 

‘Eh?* I stopped and looked at him. ‘Yes, that is true,* I said. ‘But 
how do you know my name?’ 

He laughed. 

‘Don’t you remember TakeokaV he said. ‘Well, here I am! You 
would not have expected it, would you? Now my name is Tokd. New 
life, new name ! I am pleased to see you. Come and see us. I do not live 
here; it is by chance that we met. I am at the Shokoku-ji, down in the 

city And you? Have you been in Japan the whole time, or have been 

“there” and come back?' 

We sat down and talked ; after fifteen years there were many threads 
to pick up. Takeoka-san had for a short time been a student of mine, 
but I had difficulty in recognizing him. In his student days twelve years 
before he had been a strange and not very attractive type, untidy, dirty, 



284 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

unkempt, and with a week’s growth of beard, as was common with 
students obsessed with some idea, who aspired, if not to martyrdom, at 
any rate to a hairshirt. Now he seemed taller and stronger, and he was 
immaculate. His head was shaved, he wore a working kimono of pleas- 
ing blue country cloth, and straw sandals. His whole appearance sug- 
gested inner peace and self-assurance, and an inordinate desire to laugh. 
Everything about him except his voice was so changed that I could 
hardly believe that he was the same man. 

In the old days his whole outlook had been coloured by a supreme 
contempt for everything Japanese. The first time I met him he told me 
that he came from the province of Nagano, at the foot of the Japanese 
Alps, an area of great beauty and ancient customs. I remarked that 
1 should very much like to see his village and meet his family, but he 
insisted that that would be impossible, for I should have to eat Japanese 
fashion and sleep Japanese fashion, and he was convinced that I should 
find both disgusting. If I praised anything Japanese in his hearing, he 
insisted that I did so only to give him pleasure, for the Japanese in his 
opinion were dirty, poverty-stricken, thievish, stupid, and presump- 
tuous. The impossibility of making any dent in this fixed idea some- 
times infuriated me; it was the equal and opposite of the idea held 
firmly by other Japanese that everything ‘that stinks of butter’, i.e., is 
foreign, is inferior, contemptible, ugly, and depraved. Perhaps the fact 
of being islanders encourages these heated emotional attitudes towards 
foreigners. Continental man knows that there are many different kinds 
of people, and contact with them leads to an easier and calmer evalua- 
tion of their differences and resemblances and their relative merits and 
defects. But for an islander, or member of an isolated society, every 
meeting with a foreigner is an adventure, and that is a bad foundation 
for sober judgment. Besides, the Japanese, who are artists, a people of 
intuition and instinct, have a limited critical sense; they tend to love or 
hate, accept or reject things, including their own civilization, en bloc. 

Takeoka-san’s mental journey must have been exactly the opposite 
of that of so many of his compatriots, for whom the war meant a painful 
plunge from the heights of an enormous self-complacency to the 
depths of an enormous disillusionment. The Italians went through 
a similar experience, but in the case of the Japanese the plunge was far 
deeper. Takeoka-san, however, seemed to have gone through the 



WISDOM IN A G1AIN OF SAND 28* 

reverse process; he had climbed to self-confidence from the depths of 
the abyss. When I knew him he had been studying agriculture, which 
seemed to hold out the prospect of a tranquil fiiture among rice-fields 
and lotus roots. A certain intellectual curiosity had led him to learn 
Latin in order to be able to understand the botanical names of plants 
(and hence, by way of 0 sole mio, to my courses in Italian). After gradu- 
ating he had been sent to some university in the southern seas. When 
war broke out he had been called up, had fought, and had been taken 
prisoner. All his companions committed suicide, as was expected of 
them; he did not, because he was wounded and unconscious. When 
he came round he found himself in the care of an American sergeant, 
and renounced the idea of suicide. Gradually he started feeling an 
enormous sense of gratitude towards these strange people who took 
ich care of their wounded enemies, and he became a convert to 
Christianity. After the war he was sent to the United States for a course 
of religious studies, but the result was another spiritual crisis. So this 
was how the Christians lived ! he said to himself. These people, whom 
he had worshipped like gods since boyhood, were of the same clay as 
the Japanese. At this point the influence of a master, a family acquain- 
tance who was a monk in the Shokoku monastery, seems to have 
become the decisive influence in his life. The Japanese always tend to 
succumb to the fascination of a human personality rather to any system 
of ideas; in resolutely submitting to the guidance of a master they are 
able with marvellous ease to still the whirlpools of emotion that arise 
from the paradoxes of the intellect. There is a Japanese word makaseru , 
almost untranslatable in all its implications, meaning to give ones 
confidence to somebody, implying submission, complete self-dedication 
to him; it is frequently used to describe the age-old relationship between 
man and his leader, between sage and acolyte. *Sensei-ni o-makase shimashita 9 
(I have left it to my master to decide), said Takeoka-san. 

'Come and see us, 1 he said, saying good-bye to me. *1 should like you 
to meet my master, he is a truly exceptional man. Honto-ni asobi-m 
irasshai . . . . Sayonara , sayonara / 

He resumed his sweeping. Then he bent down and picked up a pine- 
needle. 1 recalled another Zen saying: 

Picking up a blade of grass, 

He makes of it a tall, golden Buddha. 



Too and Zen 

But what is Zen? The question brings me to the hardest part of the book. 
In the first place it is open to doubt whether it is a branch of Buddhism 
at all ; it is so unorthodox in many respects that it could well be described as 
a separate religion. The roots of all the Buddhist sects lie in India; even 
the Sino-Japanese Amida cult and the Tibetan Rnyin-ma-pa, in which 
the original doctrines have undergone profound transformation, have 
obvious links with the great original tree, if only because of their rever- 
ence for the Indian sacred books, the Sutras. But, though it is claimed 
that the essence of its teaching is contained in the Lankavatara Sutra 
(in Japanese Ryoga-kyo), the most notable exponents of Zen have always 
maintained the uselessness of sacred books and writings and proclaimed 
that enlightenment (satori) is to be achieved, not by the strivings of the 
intellect, but directly from the experience of life itself; and in any case 
that the doctrine is transmitted, not by the written word, but by word 
of mouth from master to pupil. 

Tradition has it that this school, or faith, or way (Chinese too, 
Japanese michi, do), was founded by the Indian patriarch Bodhidarma, 
who went to China at the beginning of the sixth century a.d. The 
Indian roots of his doctrines, at any rate as they were understood by his 
successors, are by no means evident; Sir Charles Eliot suggests that his 
teachings were essentially Hindu (Vedantic) rather than Buddhist. In 
China, at all events, they underwent a remarkable transformation, with 
the result that, if their Indian origins are still a matter of learned dis- 
cussion, their Chinese roots are plain, and constitute an obvious link 
with Taoism. 

This brings us to Lao-tsu who, with Confucius, laid down the 
fundamental tramlines which the Far Eastern philosophical debate was 
to follow for centuries, rather as Plato and Aristotle did for western 
philosophy at the other end of the world. Confucius stands for reason, 
the world of human relations, life as discipline, conduct, manners; 
Lao-tsu for the world of relations between man and the universe, life 
as intoxication with the divine, and docta ignorantia. Confucius is the 
spokesman of north China, a land of cereals, poverty, prose, mass-man; 
Lao-tsu for south China, a land of rice and abundance, lyricism, indivi- 
dualism. In Lao-tsu the word too originally meant ‘the way’, but subse- 

286 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OP SAND 


SS7 


quently assumed the meaning of law, nature, the ultimate truth, the 
absolute. Just as in the west the wind (memos) became progress vely 
charged with loftier and more subtle meanings, becoming the breath of 
life ( ammo , the soul), and was frequently identified with God (by Gior- 
dano Bruno, for instance), so in* the east the ordinary path across the 
fields or footway between the houses was enriched with concepts which 
became the pillars of a whole cycle of civilizations. The too, 'the womb, 
principle, and reason of all the things that it contains, that develop out 
of it, and return to it in an alternating process which has no end’, works 
through the opposing principles of yin (the female, negative principle, 
the moon and water) and yang (the male, positive principle, sun and 
earth ). 1 'Into this universal flux the human reason enters like a jarring 
note which, departing from the naturalness and spontaneity of the 
}smic process of becoming, sets up an arbitrary world of its own which 
it would like to substitute for the balanced, predestined course of the 
too.'* 

Thus the Taoist, in direct contrast to the Confucian, is at perpetual 
loggerheads with reason and society. His ideal is the Real Man, the 
benign and serene sage who has understood the law of life according to 
which ‘for whosoever hath, to him shall be given, but whosoever hath 
not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath’. The sage delights 
in simple, ordinary, everyday things, and thinks and speaks like a child. 
'They spoke in paradoxes, for they were afraid of uttering half-truths. 
They began by talking like fools and ended by making their hearers 
wise.’* The sage contentedly withdraws, a leaf with the leaves, a grain of 
sand with the sand, a cloud with the clouds; he is hsien (in Japanese 
setmin ), a word written with the roots for ‘man’ and ‘mountain’; in other 
words he might be called a hermit, but incorrectly, for he does not flee 
from the world, but towards it; in fact the world, the real world, is what 
he is searching for. Clouds, dew, trees are more real to him than man 
and his empires. His motto is wu-wei (in Japanese mu-gyo), which is com- 
monly translated ‘non-acting, non-action’, though its true meaning is 
rather that ‘man must adopt simplicity as his rule of life’. 'When know- 
ledge and intelligence appeared, the Great Artifice began .* 4 The more the 

1 In Japanese in and y 8 . 

• G. Tucci, Asia Religiose, Rome, 1946, 

• K. Okakuia, Tkt Book ofTta, New York, 1906. 

• Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chm Philosophy , London, 1991. 



288 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

Great Artifice interposes itself between man and the too, the harder 
becomes the identification with the universe which is the ultimate and 
Supreme wisdom. 

Zen— the word derives from the Sanskrit dkyana, meditation, by way 
of the Chinese is in reality the offspring of Tao, because of the 
ideas it shares with it and the attitude which it inculcates towards 
society, art, knowledge, conduct. Its teaching is summed up in four 
well-known lines, which Sir Charles Eliot quotes as follows: 

A special tradition outside the scriptures; 

Not to depend on books or letters; 

To point direct to the heart of man; 

To see [one’s own] nature and become Buddha. 

We now come up against an insuperable obstacle. How are we to 
write about what is not communicable in words? The nature of enlight- 
enment, according to Zen, is inherently incommunicable. 'He who has 
not experienced it knows nothing about it, he who has experienced it 
cannot describe it.’ 

Under the early Chinese patriarchs the school seems to have lived 
for a long time in tranquillity, both physical and metaphysical. Then 
Hui-neng (in Japanese Eno, 636-717), who can be described as the second 
founder of Zen, made his appearance. Tradition has it that he was 
illiterate, and worked in a monastery kitchen. The great patriarch 
Hung-jen, feeling that his end was approaching, decided to hold a poetry 
competition to decide who was to be his successor. A favourite pupil of 
the patriarch’s composed the following, which excited universal admira- 
tion: 


The body is the Bodhi tree; 

The mind is like the bright mirror’s stand. 
Clean your mirror continually 
Lest the dust make it dim. 


Hui-neng, being unable to read or write, could not enter the 
competition, but he asked a monk to write this on the monastery 
wall: 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 


*9 

Bodhiisnotatree; 

The mirror has no stand. 

From the beginning nothing exists; 

How could dust cover it? 1 

Loud disputation followed, but the succession went to Hui-neng. 
It was he who gave Zen its peculiar character; on the one hand extreme 
nihilism, the most intransigent intellectual monism; on the other an 
exceedingly severe discipline of mind and body. There were no scrip- 
tures, no sacred formulas, no divine saviour; the individual was left 
confronting the universe alone, striving to attain communion with it 
in a flash of enlightenment. 

Hui-neng and his immediate successors established the pattern of 
*he ideal Zen master, a strange, paradoxical individual, cheerful, bad- 
tempered, capricious, unpredictable in his actions and his repartees. 
His aim was to free the mind of the tyranny of reason, with its pernicious 
distinctions between the self and the non-self, between mind and 
matter, between gods and the world, in order to guide it towards prajna 
(in Japanese hannya ), the mystic knowledge that transcends all dualisms. 
To this end the mind must be purified of karma (in Japanese go ), of the 
burden of ignorance and evil accumulated during this and previous 
lives because of attachment to vain and fleeting things. 

There are two schools of thought about how satori is to be achieved. 
The first, the more rational and orthodox S5t5 school, says that it is 
attainable by meditation, good works, immaculate living; and that by 
this means enlightenment follows upon enlightenment until life b 
raised to the level of sanctity. The other, the nihilist, lyrical school, 
represented by the Rinzai sect, says that there is not one, but an infinite 
number of ways; sometimes morality, a holy life, good works, can 
actually be an obstacle; some find enlightenment where others find 
destruction. The only essential is to strive for it with the whole of one’s 
being. It is here that the characteristic anecdotes come in which form 
such a large part of Zen literature. The teaching of this sect is done in 
short, paradoxical conversations (rrumdo), or by confronting the acolyte 
with strange themes for meditation (koan). 

1 Sn Chaubs Euctt. Japanese imktem, London, ms, p. i*. (The author quota die Chineae tot 
of the two venei.) 

T 



290 


MEETING VITH JAPAN 

In mondo dialogues like this take place. A monk asked Gensha: 

What is the One? 

G: The Many. 

M: What is the Many? 

G: The One! 

M: What is the Buddha-mind? 

G: The mind of sentient being! 

M: What is the mind of sentient beings? 

G: The Buddha-mind. 

M: What is my Self? 

G: What do you want to do with Self? 

M: Am I not just facing you? 

G: I have never seen you. 

M: Who is the right master of this Gensha Monastery? 

G: You are he, and I am the guest. 

M: Why so? 

G: What do you ask ? 1 

More frequently, perhaps, the mondo ends in blows, laughter, or 
totally meaningless replies. There is a celebrated story of a monk who 
was so roughly handled by his master that he fell and broke a leg; the 
sudden pain brought him enlightenment. The aim is to free man of all 
intellectual presumption, to shake him inwardly by paradoxes and out- 
wardly by sudden blows or practical jokes, and so open the way for the 
subconscious to lay the bridge between the self and the non-self which 
reason is unable to provide. 

In the twelfth century this mystical system, only some of the least 
disconcerting aspects of which we have described here, was introduced 
into Japan, where a number of interesting developments took place. 
Most surprising of all was the way in which the warriors took to it. 
Buddhism, the doctrine of love, peace, and koruna (universal bene- 
volence), entered into a close alliance with the military. One of the won- 
ders of life is how it puts up with such inconsistencies, of which there 
are many examples in the western world as well. The Zen monks' 
complete devotion to an idea appealed to the Kamakura warriors, as 
did their 'pointing directly to the heart of man 9 without the encum- 
brance of sacred books or subtleties of exegesis, and their courage in 


D. T. Suzun, IMtf by 2m. Tokyo, 1M9, p. 47. 



WISDOM IN A G1AIN OF SAND W 

defying ridicule, paradox, the intellect The severity of their discipline 
also appealed to the military mind The Japanese warrior regarded him- 
self, not as a bully who took advantage of brute force, but as a hero 
who defied it. 

To this spontaneous and lasting alliance the Zen philosophy owed 
its practical success in Japan. After the sublimities and casuistry of 
Shingon, the rationalist, hierarchical pride of Tendai, the good works, 
the softness of Amidism, the reign of pure instinct began, the reign of 
man as flame and sword. The Zen masters, in spite of their contempt 
for reason and reasoning, were adroit politicians; they never resorted 
to the violence of their Tendai colleagues or relaxed the discipline of 
their order. They thus gained the unlimited confidence of the rulers of 
Japan and, among other things, acquired the funds with which to build 
he most beai *iful monasteries in Japan. 

The second development on Japanese soil was the alliance between 
Zen and the arts. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance that 
the life and doctrines of the monks who lived by the principles of Zen 
had for the development of every field of Japanese art, from painting 
to ceramics, from gardening to poetry,- from the theatre to printing, 
from dancing to the cinema. Of typical Zen inspiration, for instance, is 
the universally accepted principle that there are no such things as major 
and minor arts; any activity can be art, for art takes place in man, from 
which everything radiates and to which everything returns. A point of 
tremendous importance is that for the Zen masters art is never decora- 
tion, embellishment; instead it is work of enlightenment, illumination, 
salvation, not in a narrow, pietistic sense, but in the sense of a flash of 
sudden, profound significance. Art, in other words, is a technique for 
acquiring liberty. The intellect having been dethroned, the artist's 
intuition becomes the connecting link between the self and the all. 

Here Zen sublimated immemorial trends of the Japanese mind. 
The Japanese now approached nature, the realm of the kami , with eyes 
infinitely more mature and sophisticated than in their first poetic l\m % 
but, if the spiral now mounted infinitely higher, it led back again to the 
same familiar earth. In Japan there has always been an intimacy, un- 
known in the west, between man and rock, man and grass, or fire, or 
sea-shell. Similarly, with its emphasis on the personal transmission of 
wisdom, its finger pointed to the heart of man, Zen fitted in with the 



292 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

native educational tradition, in which personality counted for more 
than ideas, the concrete was preferred to the abstract, and communica- 
tion took precedence over independent thinking. Zen can therefore be 
said to have taken the best and most real elements of the Japanese spirit 
and moulded them into a new pattern, which in turn profoundly 
influenced the life of the whole nation. 

Historically the work of mediation and ferment between Zen and 
the arts took place in connection with the humble tea-leaf. But here I do 
not propose to discuss in the abstract things which are essentially con- 
crete. We shall return to Zen and tea when we visit the Ginkaku-ji, the 
Silver Pavilion. 

Kurama Fire Festival 

This evening we went to Kurama, prepared to remain there till dawn, 
as tradition requires. The hi-matsuri, the annual fire festival, starts at dusk 
and continues till first light. With us was Jane, who had appeared in 
Kyoto for a short holiday. 

Kurama is a long, narrow village at the bottom of a narrow valley. 
At night it is even darker than usual; the wooded mountain-sides hide 
the stars and make it seem the entrance to a subterranean world of 
elves and toadstools. Perhaps it was that which prompted the inhabi- 
tants to honour their gods with a festival of light and fire; for fire serves 
as a protection from evil. ‘Water and fire are things of extreme import- 
ance in Shinto as purificatory elements .’ 1 

We joined the throng making for Kurama from Kyoto and the 
surrounding countryside, and we could see from a distance flames 
blazing among the trees, as if a house were on fire, or the place were full 
of open furnaces. When we reached the village we found huge bonfires 
of lopped tree-trunks blazing opposite every house for half a mile or 
more; I say tree-trunks advisedly; the blazing timber was of a kind that 
with us would have been set aside for making furniture. But Japan is so 
rich in timber that it is never a problem. 

One of the Japanese in our party took us to the house of some 
friends where, after elaborate greetings and bows and cups of tea, we 
sat by a window looking out on to the street The first parties of small 

* J. P. Hauchbcoini, I* Jape*, hurls, 1994, p. N* 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 9) 

boys were already marching by, carrying on their shoulders big torches 
(tai-matsu) made of twigs wrapped in bark, shouting sai-m sat-ryo! sed-rti 
sai-ryo! The first part of the festival, which lasts from nine or ten o’clock 
until about midnight, consists of boys and young men marching 
through the village, carrying the biggest and heaviest torches that they 
can handle. First come boys, then youths, then men, but none are older 
than twenty-four or twenty-five. The festival obviously originated in an 
initiation ceremony. The torch-bearers gathered round the Shinto 
shrine of Yuki, dedicated to the gods who cure all evil. 

The village was packed. Heads were peering from every window, 
and the throng in the streets was dense; it parted to make way for the 
torch-bearers, and closed again behind them. As youths succeeded boys 
and young men succeeded youths, the torches grew bigger and heavier 
..nd burnt m r* nercely, and it grew so hot at our window that we took 
off our jackets. The bonfires outside the houses blazed furiously, the 
torches multiplied, and the whole village seemed alight. 

‘Why on earth don’t the houses catch fireV I asked the old obe-san 
of the family whose guests we were. 

The kami watch over us,' she replied. More literally what she said 
was: kami-sama no o-gake de (‘it is thanks to the honourable shadow of the 
honourable gods’). 

The torch-bearers did not seem to take the least notice of the 
crowd. They climbed the slope shouldering their flaming burden, 
wearing fantastic clothing which would certainly have pleased the great 
leader of the Tengu, with his weakness for adolescents . 1 They were 
nearly naked, save for a short coloured coat (ham) and silk belt, from 
which there hung a kind of white string skirt (sagari). The belts were 
tied in a big, black, shiny bow immediately over their bare buttocks. No 
Paris choreographer ever devised a more diabolically striking costume. 

Jane wanted an explanation of all this incendiary enthusiasm, but 
nobody seemed to have anything to suggest; all the local people had 
to say was that it was the custom ; their grandfathers had done it, so they 
did it too. It did not, however, seem to me to require much anthro- 

1 Id a famous N5 play the boy Yoshitsune. banished to Kurama by Taira Klyomorl, the slayer 
of his lather, is taught swordmanshlp by the great leader of the Kurama-teagu, the Kurama demons 
in order to enable him one day to avenge his lather. The great leader of the Xjtramo-tagw when be 
first appears to the boy, makes him a declaration of love In terms of the loftiest poetry. Thus 
homosexuality has been idealized in Japan as well as in Greece. 



294 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

pological acumen to see that it was a virility test, such as occurs in 
many societies, from the most primitive, such as that of the Piaroas 
*a Venezuela, to the most advanced (e.g., the student duels in Ger- 
many), to which the young are subjected before being accepted as 
grown up. 

‘Notice how everyone claps when a particularly heavy torch is 
carried by/ 1 said to Jane. ‘Look at the weight that that one’s carrying 1’ 

The torch-bearer in question routed the cornucopia of fire on his 
shoulders, and wind scattered sparks in all directions. People shouted, 
girls clapped. Now the biggest torches of all were arriving, some of them 
so huge that two or three grown men were required to carry them, 
sweating and covered with sparks and ashes. 

‘How Giorgio would love to see all this!' Jane exclaimed. ‘What 
a pity he isn’t here ! How much he would enjoy all this colour ! He says 
you learn more about Japan on an occasion like this than from a hun- 
dred books. He’s right, isn’t he!’ 

We talked about the festival, we talked about Japan, we talked about 
Giorgio. It suddenly dawned on me that Jane had fallen in love with 
him, though perhaps she was not yet aware of it; she kept bringing the 
conversation back to him. She said that he was such a good man, had 
such a wonderful brain, was such a loving father. They had seen a lot of 
each other in Tokyo; he had taken her to museums, private art collec- 
tions, popular festivals, gardens, temples, and to some of the most 
curious resuurants, the Momonji, for instance, where you could eat 
fox, badger, bear, and even giraffe or elephant, it appeared, if a zoo 
happened to be short of cash. 

This discovery about Jane gave me great pleasure; it might be a way 
of extricating Giorgio from the complications of his present situation, 
trapped as he was between the tyranny of his housekeeper Abe-san and 
the despair of Tama-chan. But now it was midnight, and our conversa- 
tion was interrupted; it was time to go up to the temple. 

Walking along the fiery street with its throng of gay and happy 
people, every now and then we met men carrying k emboko, poles more 
than twenty feet long with swords shining at the top; I was told that 
they were gathering for the procession of palanquins a little later. Many 
houses were half-open, displaying the family treasures to passers-by; 
old samurai armour, swords, flowers artfully displayed, paintings, 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 299 

specimens of calligraphy. Whenever we stopped to look the people of 
the house invited us inside and offered us saU. 

But here were the temple steps, mounting broad and steep up to 
the entrance gate and the mountain beyond. Here the whole forest 
seemed to be alight. The festival was at its height. Grown-ups had 
started passing round bottles of sab ‘to keep their strength up', and the 
result was a glorious bacchanalia. People were shouting, singing, quarrel- 
ling; bare shoulders, bare chests, bare buttocks, ecstatic faces, intoxicated 
faces, faces in pain, faces of fawns and satyrs, seethed and swirled like 
a sea in torment beneath showers of sparks that vanished in acrid smoke 
floating away into the black tree-tops. 

About one o’clock, in that unexpected manner so characteristic of 
the Japanese, the dozens, nay hundreds, of torch-bearers who a moment 
before had v med a disorganized, shrieking mass of drunken pyro- 
maniacs, formed up in two orderly rows on either side of the steps, and 
at the gateway at the top there appeared the first of the two mibshi, 
gilded, lacquered, palanquins decorated with silken fabrics and golden 
bells: they are enormously heavy, and are carried by about forty youths 
—youths are always the most important feature of any Shinto religious 
procession. The palanquins certainly contained the shintai, ‘the divine 
body', no doubt represented as usual by an ancient, shiny, metal mirror. 
To keep time the youths shouted in unison w asshoi! w asshoi! wassfoi! 

Our friend Harima-san succeeded in joining us in the milee, and 
he explained to us many details of what was going on. In the distant 
past what we were witnessing must have been a spectacular ceremony 
of initiation of young men to full membership of the tribe. Girls and 
young wives from Kurama and the neighbouring villages held long 
ropes attached to the heavy palanquins, thus helping to keep them 
balanced, by this useful service assuring themselves of happy childbirth 
when the occasion arose. Youths of a certain age, however, were picked 
up bodily by their companions, tilted backward and carried with their 
legs apart to the bottom of the steps, where they took first place in the 
procession that accompanied each palanquin. This rite was known as 
choppen, a word of unknown origin. ‘The reason for this curious custom 
is not understood,' Harima said. I replied that it seemed pretty obvious 
to me. Nowadays everyone Wore fimdoshi , a strip of white material 
gathered round the lower part of the body and sides like a big bikini. 



*9* MEETING WITH JAPAN 

but in the old days they would all have been naked. The chopptn rite was 
a public demonstration of sexual maturity. Harima seemed rather 
shocked by this suggestion, though it seemed natural enough to Jane. 
An old man with whom we struck up an acquaintance added some 
corroborative details; he said that a boy who had not been subjected to 
the choppen ceremony was, as it were, not a man. At one time he might 
not have been able to marry. 

The mikoshi passed through the sea of yelling people, and we went 
down the steps again, which were suddenly almost deserted; the crowd 
had left behind a trail of smoke and smouldering embers; here and there 
a branch of a tree was still alight. The old man— with his magnificent 
head he looked just like a wise man of the woods— accompanied us and 
told us many things. It seemed that those responsible for organizing the 
festival (the yakutsuki) were the four leaders of the uji— clans, groups of 
related families — under the guidance of a dairyo. The ceremonies lasted 
for several days; the fire festival was only a climax; the preparations and 
the concluding rites were just as important, though less spectacular. 
Finally, all the participants took home a little tai-matsu. If things went 
wrong during the course of the year, they burnt them to exorcize the 
evil. 

When we got back to the village we found that the family who had 
been our hosts had prepared futon for us in two rooms. It was late, they 
said, and we could do with some sleep; in fact the first light was appear- 
ing in the sky. 

One of the great advantages of Japanese domestic arrangements is 
that it is always possible to put up a large number of people at short 
notice without inconvenience. There being no beds, and rooms being 
always bare of furniture and other encumbrances, all that is necessary 
is to produce the required number of futon from the capacious wall 
cupboards. It should be added that the great personal cleanliness of the 
Japanese, and their slight glandular secretions (a characteristic common 
to the whole of the Mongol family), mean that there is nothing dis- 
agreeable about using bedclothes which have been used by others. 

We men were put in a room where we could hear the rushing waters 
of the stream. Some hold that the sound of water keeps you awake, 
others that it sends you to sleep. The latter must be right, because it was 
midday before we awoke. 



House: Kitchen Temple 

Instead of returning to Kyoto we decided to go on to Hanase, a tiny 
mountain villageon the other side of a pass nearly 2,500 feet high, to take the 
opportunity of filming some scenes of Japanese country life ; the gather* 
ing of the rice, for instance, which down in the plain was nearly over. 

The immediate surroundings of Kyoto are wild and uninhabited, 
and of a primordial beauty, and this impression is increased towards 
sunset. We climbed a long, narrow, wooded valley, full of sugi (cypresses), 
along a road that ended by degenerating into a narrow track, winding 
its way between rocks, along streams, past the sites of landslides. When 
we met a lorry loaded with stones, long and complicated manoeuvres 
were required to pass. The ascent grew steeper, the scenery more Alpine; 
‘ e car develop J strange noises, and the water in the radiator boiled. 
At last we reached the top of the pass and began the descent. Forests 
stretched as far as the eye could see; the luminous evergreen of the 
pines, and the autumn tints of the deciduous trees. 

After two or three miles the valley broadened, the forest opened 
out, the landscape grew gentler, and we reached the first houses of 
Hanase, with their ancient roofs of grass and straw. We were barely an 
hour from Kyoto, but we might have been in a valley in another world; 
it was hardly possible to imagine a more perfect retreat. 

During the afternoon I was able to shoot some of the scenes I 
wanted, particularly the gathering of the rice. Making a documentary 
in Japan is always a pleasure; it is sufficient to have some knowledge of 
the language and to be able to explain what you want, and everyone 
responds willingly, quickly, and intelligently. Only twice in Japan have 
I met with refusals, and both, though firm, were polite. The first occasion 
was at Nagasaki, where an old woman, taking her grandson to present 
him to the local Shinto shrine , 1 declined to be filmed; the second was 
a fisherman at Akase, near Kobe. I had serious difficulties only with 
women pearl gatherers and with some pam-pam near allied military 
camps, but these were special cases. 

We had intended to return to Kyoto the same evening, but were 
so enchanted by the local inn and the peasants' hospitality that we 
decided to stay overnight. ‘Inn'.is scarcely the right word; the place was 

* After childbearing the mother Is regarded as Impure, and therefore cannot do this. 


297 



298 MEETING WITH JAtAN 

an old country cottage with a big thatched roof, perhaps slightly bigger 
than its neighbours; the owner, who cultivated his own little plot, had 
^ few extra rooms which were at the disposal of travellers. 

There was a magnificent, huge, irregular-shaped kitchen, in the 
dark, mysterious recesses of which there gleamed enormous cupboards, 
the wood darkened by many generations of smoke and scrubbed clean 
by many generations of housewives; the battery of black, polished, 
spotlessly clean kam (pots for cooking rice) stretched across a good part 
of the room like the side of a battleship; they cast blue reflections of the 
light that came in through the doors and little windows, and were 
decorated with fresh branches of sakagi in honour of the kami protector 
of the hearth, known locally as Sambo-san (‘Mr. Three Directions' 
i.e., 'Mr. Looking in Three Directions’), who is popularly represented 
with three heads. Here the kitchen was really the centre of life. The 
more spacious area where the work was done, the fire was lit, water was 
carried, and the washing-up was done, was of carefully beaten earth, 
and it was permissible to walk there in geta (wooden sandals), as if it were 
outside, but in the raised part, with its tatami and shining wooden tables, 
your shoes must be removed; here you squatted round a small, open 
fire (iron, see drawing on page 278), used to boil the water for tea, or to 
warm yourself. High overhead, rafters, encrusted with soot— they were 
tree-trunks taken from the forest centuries ago and squared with the 
axe— formed an irregular pattern. A thin ribbon of smoke vanished into 
the dark (Photographs 69, 70). 

When we returned at sunset the kitchen was humming with 
women and girls preparing the dinner, among clouds of steam from the 
kama in which the rice was cooking. There were a number of guests 
besides ourselves— men helping with the rice harvest, as well as thatchers 
who had come to mend the village roofs; the latter, as usual, came from 
the distant island of Shikoku (‘Of the Four Provinces’). I was reminded 
of the Fratta kitchen described by Ippolito Nievo at the beginning of his 
Confessions . But one big difference was that we had had a hot bath, which 
I think must have been a rare event in the eighteenth-century Venetian 
countryside. Finally, feeling rested and relaxed, our appetites pleas- 
ingly stimulated, our bodies wrapped in the soft warmth of tanzon, a kind 
of padded kimono-dressing-gown, we responded with enthusiasm to 
the information that dinner was ready. 



WISDOM IN A G1AIN OF SAND 


m 


Our host wanted us to dine in our rooms, as is the custom in Japan, 
but Jane and I insisted on eating in the kitchen. 'It’s like dining in hall 
at Christchurch, Oxford,’ Jane insisted. We succeeded eventually in 
overcoming the landlady’s resistance, sat down by the iron, and vora- 
ciously attacked our rice, seaweed, and fish straight from the mountain 
stream. 

Afterwards we remained for a long time talking round the fire. 
Peasants from neighbouring houses, helpers who had come to give 
a hand, women who had finished their work, came in and joined the 
circle, partly drawn by curiosity to see the foreigners, who are rare in 
these parts. Meanwhile night descended over the valley, and during 
pauses in the talk you could hear the wind in the rafters, and outside 
the occasional cry of a distant bird. 

Fujii, our jst, a broad-shouldered man of about fifty ^rtth greying 
temples and good, strong hands, which were continually engaged in 
refilling his tiny pipe, told us that there were bears in the mountains, 
particularly in the Kamikuroda direction. Occasionally they killed a few 
chickens, but they spent most of their time climbing trees and eating 
kaki; they were very greedy. 

His son, a student at the Buddhist Otani University at Kyoto, who 
had come home to help with the rice harvest, said that there were also 
many badgers and foxes, and even stags. 

His father said that this was the stags' mating season. Hadn't we 
heard them? They kept calling 'Kaero, kaero ’ (We're coming back! we’re 
coming back !) They called out once for each branch of their horns; the 
oldest had three branches on their horns. 

A peasant known as Chute (nearly all of them were known by 
nicknames, as there were only two surnames, Fujii and Monobe, in the 
village) said he had heard that if the stags increased the boars diminished, 
and vice versa . 

‘Where I live,’ my friend Uriu remarked, ‘they say that if money 
increases honest women diminish, and vice versa.' 

Some laughed, but others thought the remark excessively daring. 
The hyotan was passed round again, and everyone took a sip of 
scU, 

A man known by the name of Oke-ya remarked, d propos of money, 
that thirty years before a golden statuette had been found on the site 



300 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

of a former temple, the Amida-ji, on a neighbouring mountain. Perhaps 
more might be found if the place were searched thoroughly. 

* % Fujii, speaking with special emphasis, as if his words had some 
special reference to somebody present, said that at the time someone 
had proposed selling the golden statuette, but it had been decided 
instead to present it to the local temple, where it was now put on view 
three times a year: on the first day of the tiger in January, on May 20, 
the anniversary of the day when it was found, and at the time of the 
summer festivals. 

An old man who had been silently watching us for a long time 
said, d propos of temples, that when he was a boy heads of families had 
used to gather round a table on which a straw snake was put; each 
one of them, armed with a new wooden stick, then 'killed the snake’ 
in turn. Positions round the table were fixed by immemorial traditipn. 
Nobody remembered these things any longer. Who knew why they 
had done them? 

The conversation moved further and further away from the earth 
and became more fantastic. It turned, among other things, to o-bake 
(honourable ghosts), who played with foxes and badgers which possessed 
supernatural powers and turned into beautiful women, with whom 
men fell desperately in love. It was late indeed when, having got rather 
cold and very sleepy, and with slight shivers going up and down our 
spines, we went up to our rooms. 

We were just creeping under our futon — Uriu and I in one room, 
Jane in another — when the silence of the night was broken by the 
sound of a car drawing up outside. It was Giorgio. We hurried down to 
greet him. He had gone to Kyoto on business, and had called at our hotel 
and found out where we had gone. 

Jane made her appearance. ‘Oh, Giorgio, what a wonderful sur- 
prise!’ 

Giorgio was in better form than I had seen him for a long time. He 
wanted us all to go for a walk in the moonlight. Uriu and I looked at 
each other; we were much too tired. Giorgio’s insistence on our coming 
too grew weaker and weaker, and we went back to bed, while the moon- 
light flooded the mountains, and the stags in the distance called 'k aero, 
kaero \ and the badgers meditated strange transformations, and ancient 
golden statues gleamed mysteriously in the forest. 



Silver Pavilion 

The Kamakura period (1181-133}) ended with one of the ferocious, blood- 
thirsty, and heroic episodes so characteristic of Japanese history. I shall 
not relate here the numerous economic, social, and political causes 
which led to the decline and fall of the government of the shikken of the 
H5jo family, which lasted for more than a century. But, when the 
Emperor Go-Daigo, a man of great ambition and personal courage, 
mounted the throne and decided to do away with the delegation of 
powers and restore direct imperial rule, he did not find it excessively 
difficult to gather forces sufficient to destroy Kamakura. The city fell 
on July j, 1333, after a desperate struggle; Takatoki, the last of the H5j6 
shikken, and 800 followers and members of his household committed 
se-r>uku in the cemetery of a temple after drinking the three farewell cups 
of saki required oy etiquette. 

The adventures and misadventures of this bold Emperor, who had 
dreamt of governing the countries as in the old days, through the huge 
(court nobles), and of seeing it administered by the decrees of the hike 
(military nobles) were most romantic. Before he overthrew Kamakura 
he had been defeated, deposed, and exiled to the island of Oki, from 
which he escaped in the best film style; he completed part of his journey 
in a palanquin reserved for ladies of the court, and another part hidden 
under a load of seaweed in a fishing-boat. After two years during which 
he tried to re-establish an imperial government centred on Kyoto, he was 
defeated in 1335 by the treachery, strength, and the wiles of Ashikaga 
Takauji, the commander who had defeated the Hdjd of Kamakura on 
his behalf. 

Between then and the beginning of the Tokugawa ascendancy in 
the seventeenth century war and disorder prevailed. The Ashikaga 
shoguns took the place of the H5j5 shikken as the de facto rulers of Japan, 
but, except for short periods, disorder prevailed and their power was 
limited or violently opposed. From 1336 to 1392 two rival branches of the 
imperial family, the northern, with its capital at Kyoto, and the southern, 
established in the Yoshino mountains, contested the succession; victory 
finally went to the southern branch. 1 Battles were fought round the 
capital and in the capital itself. ^ In the disastrous Onin war (1467-1477) 

1 This period is knows as the Namboku-chfi. 

301 



302 MEETING WITH JfAFAN 

Kyoto was reduced to a heap of smoking ruins. The Imperial House was 
reduced to incredible straits; one emperor was reduced to selling his 
t autograph on the public highway. Brigandage prevailed in the interior 
and piracy along the coast. The only law was that of the jungle, and the 
only justice that of the sword. 

Nevertheless these were centuries of great, if disorderly, vitality and, 
while everything seemed to be collapsing into chaos, new heights were 
reached in the arts and the refinements of civilized living. Moreover, 
the confusion of events concealed the consolidation of a true feudal 
system. The small, tax-free holdings (shorn), which had constituted the 
economic foundation of the warrior class, were gradually consolidated 
into larger groupings, and there started to emerge the figure of the 
daimyo (literally 'big name’), who was a true feudal lord. The population 
increased steadily. In the eleventh century it was between four to five 
millions; in the late sixteenth century it was between fifteen to twenty 
millions . 1 In every branch of technique important progress was made. 
In a sheltered bay not far from Kyoto a flourishing centre of trade, 
manufacture, and finance arose, first at Sakai, then at Osaka, a true free 
city outside the feudal domains, similar in many respects to a western 
mediaeval commune. ‘Japan entered the feudal period in the twelfth 
century, a small, weak, economically backward land on the fringes of 
the civilized world. It emerged in the sixteenth century from a pro- 
longed period of feudal anarchy, an economically advanced nation, 
able, in many ways, to compete on terms of equality with the newly 
encountered peoples of Europe and even with the Chinese.’* 

The second half of the sixteenth century, the period in which three 
great men, Oda Nobunaga (1334-1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), 
and Tokugawalyeyasu (1542-1616), reunited Japan and laidthefoundations 
of the modem state, had many interesting characteristics, with which 
we shall deal later. Here I shall mention two individuals, Yoshimitsu 
(1358-1408) and Yoshimasa (1435-1490), the third and fourth shoguns of the 
Ashikaga dynasty, in whom both the lights and shadows of those 
agitated times are admirably summed up. 

As enlightened patrons of the arts the Ashikaga have several times 
been compared to the Medici, but the comparison is undoubtedly to 

1 5m M. Rjquibn, U ProbUme de la Population m Japan, Tokyo, 1934. 

• E O. Rjischaubi, Japan Post andPrtstnt, New York, 193)1 p. 79, 



WISDOM IN A G1AIN OF SAND 


303 


the advantage of the latter. The Medici made Tuscany almost out of 
nothing and turned it into one of the great centres of European civili- 
zation; the Ashikaga did little to pacify Japan; they found it devastated, 
and that is how they left it. They were, however, great patrons of the 
arts, and much is owed to them. 

With Yoshimitsu the age of samurai austerity ended. For too long 
the warriors, who felt themselves to be superior in everything, had 
lived in a state of uncomfortable inferiority in relation to the court 
nobles, whom they regarded as soft and effeminate, but envied for their 
capacity to distinguish a T’ang vase from a Sung, a good poem from an 
imitation, genuine good manners from false. Yoshimitsu became here- 
ditary shogun when he was barely nine years old. Before retiring at the 
age of forty he surrounded himself with unheard-of splendour while 
1 . country wa<* torn by war, and he retired to a delightful pavilion, 
half-sacred and half-profane, in which he lived a life half-sacred and 
half-profane. The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku) survived as one of the 
most precious architectural relics of the period until 1950, when it was 
destroyed in a few moments by the inevitable Japanese fire. 

Yoshimasa, his grandson, more or less repeated his grandfather’s 
career. As so happens in such cases, the greater the ruin and devasta- 
tion in the outer world, the more subtle and imaginative became the 
aesthetic refinements of the elect. He, too, became shogun in bovhood 
and retired in his forties; and for another sixteen years lived the life of 
a supreme connoisseur of the arts in a villa he built at the foot of the 
Eastern Mount, called the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku). 

Today I visited the Ginkaku-ji with Midori, a westernized young 
relative of a friend of mine ; she appeared punctually at eight o’clock at 
the Silver Water on a bicycle, in white tennis shoes, light blue jeans, and 
an open-necked red blouse. A little later she was joined by a boy of 
about the same age, also on a bicycle and wearing jeans and a white 
baseball-player’s cap. 

This is Nishimura-san,’ Midori said, introducing her companion 
with a slight blush. 'I hope you don’t mind if he comes with us. He wants 
to learn how to use a film camera. He speaks English, don’t you, Nicky- 
chan? Let Maraini-san hear how well you speak English!’ 

Nicky’s English was an incomprehensible pseudo-American jargon. 
He tried to laugh as Americans laugh, and to slap people on the back 



304 


MEETING WITH JArAN 

with American heartiness. The trouble with these Japanese boys is that 
they do not realize that the things which they believe to be western and 
non-traditional are in fact highly traditional. An American really is 
*cordial, but the Nickies, the Johnnies, the Sammies succeed only in 
being barbarous. 

The weather had changed suddenly, as it so often does in Japan. 
A ceiling of high haze obscured the sun, which was perceptible only as 
a shapeless blaze of light. We climbed to the temple along a lane flanked 
by houses and gardens. I went on ahead with my two assistants, and the 
revolutionary young couple followed us, chattering. I was not too 
pleased at their company; at the temple they would certainly be looked 
at askance. I heard Nicky calling the girl 'Middy' (short for Midori?). 
They did not say hai (yes) to each other, but okay . Did they know how 
often in the course of the centuries their ancestors had done the same 
sort of thing? At Asuka in the sixth century they had aped the Koreans, 
at Nara in the eighth century they had aped the Chinese, at Nagasaki 
in the sixteenth century they had aped the Portuguese. Documents, 
screens, paintings, bear witness to their faithfulness to the dernier cri from 
Lisbon, the latest in lace collars or silk breeches. At Yedo in the nine- 
teenth century it was the thing to be a boulevardier, a dandy. Now it is the 
turn of the United States. Fifty years ago Japanese students sang a song 
the refrain of which was ‘ dekansho f dekansho ’ (‘Descartes, Kant, Schopen- 
hauer’); now they prefer chiikudansu (‘dancing cheek to cheek'). Perhaps it 
should not be taken too seriously. The mobo (modern boy) and moga 
(modern girl) of the Ginza of twenty years ago have utterly vanished, 
and no doubt the tayo-zoku (‘race of the sun') will go the same way. 

The Silver Pavilion was near the house where we lived before the 
war. We often used to visit it, and had made friends with the family that 
looked after the temple and the garden, which consisted of three 
brothers and a sister. The eldest brother was what is known as a nama - 
gusu bozu, a priest who has a weakness for the pleasures of samsara, wine 
and women; the second was a famous master of archery; the third, the 
most intelligent and best educated member of the family, spoke excel- 
lent English and was the first friend we made at Kyoto; alas, he died 
a few years ago. Who knew whether the family was still there, or would 
remember us? I suddenly felt very old— like Urashima Taro, the fisher- 
man who followed the daughter of the sea king down into his realm of 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND 


305 

seaweed. One day he had an irresistible desire to see his family and his 
native village again, but when he got there nobody recognized him, all 
his relatives and friends were dead, and in the temple he saw his own 
memorial tablet saying that he had been lost at sea. He thought he had 
been away for three years; he had been away for three centuries. 

‘Ard! Fiwsko-sart desu-ka ?' They spotted me even before 1 reached the 
doorstep. Unlike Urashima Taro, I thought I had been away for fifteen 
years, but I might have been away for only fifteen minutes. Even Nicky 
and Middy, who had probably never before set foot in such traditionally 
Japanese surroundings, were drawn into the warmth of the welcome. 

Meanwhile the sky had darkened; the mother-of-pearl haze had 
turned to grey, and it seemed advisable to go and look at the garden 
now, before it started to rain. Animated conversation was in progress; 
t 1 ? men were talking about cameras (the priest had a magnificent 
Nikon, with tne latest in wide-aperture lenses), and the women were 
chattering gaily, with gusts of loud laughter. Middy was telling the 
priest’s wife her whole family history, going back to the fifth generation. 

1 took advantage of the opportunity to slip away into the garden. 
It was a wonderful moment. The sky was threatening; there was not 
a breath of wind. The light came at surface level from the edges of the 
sky and left no shadow; the colours were unusually vivid. In the deep 
silence a frog jumped crazily in the irregular little lake, subtly empha- 
sizing all sorts of things. I thought of the lines of Bashd: 


Furu-ike ya 
Kawazu tobikomu 
Mizu no oto 


} The ancient pond ! A frog plunged • . . 
The sound of the water! 


The pond is small, even tiny, but it offers such a variety of views 
that it ends by seeming huge. It is cut up into arms, bays, recesses 
between pine-covered rocks; some table-sized islands are joined to the 
bank by bridges of rough, flat pieces of rock. These rocks were presented 
to Yoshimasa by the leading daimyo of his day; in each case the name of 
the giver appears on a small wooden board. This detracts somewhat 
from the naturalness of the scene but, apart from this trifling detail, the 
supreme artistry with which the garden was conceived and executed, 
and is still maintained, lies in the fact that the artistry is altogether 
u 



306 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

concealed . 1 You might, while on a mountain excursion, have suddenly 
come upon an enchanted valley in which rocks, stones, and trees had 
bqen gathered together in an arrangement of intense significance. No 
single connecting thread runs through it all; each stone and tree-trunk 
has its own meaning; mosses, ferns, pine-needles do not just fill space, 
they infuse it with life. Water, the most homogeneous of the elements 
employed, is used to frame the masses; its subtle fingers playfully 
insinuate transparencies and reflections between stone and grass. 

We are at the opposite pole from the geometrical Italian-style 
garden. The basis of the latter is the pattern, the intellectual rhythm of 
lines, surfaces, relationships— homage to Euclid, in fact; matter, how- 
ever skilfully it may be employed to create pleasing effects of colour, 
light, shape, contrast, is essentially a space-filling material. Flowers are 
allowed only in beds, gravel only on paths, trees and shrubs only in the 
space allotted to them. All this is artifice of the first degree, man imposing 
his law on matter, which at bottom he despises, in honour of what he 
values most— that is to say, his own thought. In the eastern garden, on 
the other hand, though it is true that artifice is pushed much further, 
it is artifice of the second degree. By it nature is twice subdued, first by 
the imposition of man’s will, and then by its total concealment. This 
twofold process closes the cycle; the homage is not to Euclid, but to life. 
No external, abstract pattern is imposed on the plot and the things that 
are destined to fill it; instead the latter are dynamic nuclei which deter- 
mine and modify the space around them— exactly as the heavenly 
bodies do, according to modern physics. The western garden is the child 
of the intellect, the eastern garden is the child of love. The former is 
hierarchical— man, animals, statues, plants, earth, and water, each in its 
place. The eastern garden is man-leaf, sun- joy, water-thought. 

Walking along the path that winds its way irregularly and incon- 
spicuously about the place, as if it desired to hide itself for fear of spoiling 
the magic, is like unwinding one of those scrolls (emakimono) of the Ashi- 
kaga period on which there are drawn rocks, views of rivers and lakes, 
trees battered by storms, mountain-tops lost in the clouds; every now 
and then a tiny human figure is to be made out, a fisherman drawing 
in his nets, a pilgrim, a slightly crazy old poet who has detected the 

1 According to some it is the work of S 5 ami (1472-1523); others hold it to be that ofZesmi (or 
Scsktmi). See ). Hakada, The Gardens of Japan, London, 192s. 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND W 

infinite in a Made of grass ; or sometimes a temple or place of meditation, 
or a hut almost hidden in the forest. 

But here is a real pavilion beside a real pond; it reveals itself 
gradually as you make your way along the little path. This is the famous 
Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku) built by Yoshimasu in 148), when he handed 
over the cares of government to his son Yoshihisa and determined to 
create for himself an environment of the most perfect beauty in accord- 
ance with Zen teachings. The pavilion was to have been covered in 
silver (for the moon), but this was not done, and the building has 
remained unadorned throughout the centuries, its bare timbers gnarled 
by time and the weather. There is no doubt that Yoshimasa desired to 
emulate his grandfather Yoshimitsu, who built the Golden Pavilion in 
1397, but everything here is smaller, more subtle, more perfect. It is easy 
'. detect that was a century of philosophical depth, of Search and 
inquiry in every field of aesthetics which had become an ingrained habit 
of mind. The pavilion is a small, two-storey structure of Franciscan 
simplicity, built of wood and paper. Its beauty lies in its perfect propor- 
tions, its lightness, the rhythm of the vertical lines which provide asubtle 
counterpoint to the gentle curve of the roofs. The ground floor is in 
Japanese style, and the first floor contains many Chinese elements. But 
the whole is the work of such a sure eye that the different elements are 
not evident; in order to discern them stylistic analysis is required. 

It was in this garden and temple, and its other pavilions— all of them 
exceedingly modest and simple— where the priest and his family now 
live with some acolytes— that Yoshimasa spent the second part of his 
life in company with the great artists of his time, pursuing its austert 
aesthetic ideals. The influence of the ideas which then came to fruition 
survived through the centuries and still permeate Japanese life; more- 
over, there are signs that they may now be going to enjoy a new lease of 
life on a wider scale outside Japan, in Europe and America. Many of the 
most acclaimed novelties in architecture, furnishing, style of life, in the 
last analysis date back to Yoshimasa and his household, and the nights 
they spent in meditation in their wooden temples, surrounded by 
objects made of straw, lacquer, paper, and porcelain, in the metaphysical 
intoxication of tea-drinking. 

The role of grand master of aesthetics at the court of Yoshimasa 
was played by the three Ami, grandfather, father, and son: NSami 



308 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

(1397-1494)1 Geiami (1431-1485), and S5ami (1472-1523). With the aid of these 
brilliant masters of the Zen philosophy, who brought to aesthetic 
^maturity what was implicit in the teachings of the patriarchs, Yoshimasa 
collected paintings of the Sung dynasty in black and white, porcelain, 
earthenware, masterpieces of calligraphy, objects of all sorts of the 
highest value to be found in the east. N5ami and his descendants acted 
as arbiters in this supreme court of aesthetic judgment. Everything was 
rejected that smacked, not just of vulgarity, but of a too obvious display 
even of deep and genuine feeling. The aim was only to suggest, to strike 
a spark which would cause the mind to take a leap into the infinite. 

Today there were few visitors to the place; I came across an old 
couple reverently admiring the garden, holding a silent child by the 
hand, walking round the strange heap of white gravel, shaped like a 
little Mount Fuji, near the entrance. The background to the garden is 
provided by the Eastern Hills, the densely wooded flanks of which 
mount abruptly behind it. I remember coming here many years ago 
on the occasion of the September full moon; our friends at the temple 
had invited us, together with some Japanese and foreign acquaintances. 
The pavilion was open for the occasion, as perhaps happened in the 
time of Yoshimasa himself; the sliding partitions (amado, fusuma , and 
shoji) had been removed, and the moonlight flooded the tatami, the mats, 
on which we squatted at what was no doubt the very spot where 
Yoshimasa and his friends gathered to compose poetry and listen to 
the flute. The conversation, however, turned to a topic very different 
from what tradition would have required in such a place on such an 
occasion. 

A Protestant missionary whose name I forget remarked that for 
him the whole thing was spoilt by the thought that Yoshimasa spent 
his time enjoying himself here while people were being killed by bandits 
in the streets of Kyoto or dying of hunger or disease. 

This led to a lively argument, in I do not know how many lan- 
guages. The poor Japanese, who had come here to enjoy the moon and 
the garden, must have said to themselves: Just listen to these foreigners, 
at it again as usual! It was easy enough to make a strong case against 
Yoshimasa; he was shogun during one of the most disastrous periods 
of Japanese history. Not only was the whole country in disorder, but in 
the so-called Onin civil war (1467-1477) fighting extended to the capital 



WISDOM IN A GK.AIN OF SAND 309 

itself. 'When at length v in 1477. the rival forces were withdrawn, the dty 
presented a picture of almost complete desolation*; 1 the population 
had been reduced from more than half a million to about forty thou- 
sand, and everyone, from the Emperor downwards, camped as best he 
could among the ruins. The chronicles of the time speak of nothing but 
of want, pestilence, and revolt. Destitute samurai borrowed from money- 
lenders and subsequently had the debt cancelled by complacent edicts 
of the shogun called tokusei-ryo. Yoshimasa at one time issued nine of 
these in a month, 1 thus creating more discontent and new causes of 
disorder. Meanwhile he held expensive receptions to admire the cherry- 
blossom or watch open-air dancing, and built sumptuous villas for his 
mother and for his wife, Tomi, who made or unmade laws at her plea- 
sure. It was only too easy to make out a devastating case against Yoshi- 
.nasa, and wr ill felt slightly guilty that evening, as if we in some way 
had contributed to neglecting the sufferings of the unfortunate inhabi- 
tants of Kyoto of four centuries ago. 

But good and evil are so inextricably mixed in human affairs that 
I doubt whether I should be so hard on Yoshimasa today. There is no 
denying that he was an appallingly bad shogun, but he did not indulge 
in the wild and useless extravagances of which there are so many 
instances among the rulers of every country. Thanks to his passion for 
beauty, incomparable treasures of the Chinese Sung period (tenth to 
thirteenth centuries) have come down to us, and much of what is most 
delightful in Japanese life at the present day can be traced back to him. 
It was thus with a feeling of gratitude that I slowly retraced my steps to 
the Tokyu-do, the principal temple. 

I was, however, distracted from this, and from all other possible 
thought, by the strident tones of a loudspeaker giving in hoarse, official- 
style Japanese a long, detailed description of the beauties and history of 
the place; a swarm of school children came noisily pouring in and 
raising the dust. The guardians of the temple had evidently grown tired 
of conducted tours; recording tape and loudspeakers were obviously 
ideal for the job, so why not make use of them? 

On the engawa (veranda) I found Middy sitting with Nicky. They 
looked bored. 

• R. A. B. FOnsonbt-Fanb, Zy **, Hongkong, 1931, p. u*. 

•N. Konrad, Bmt St*k M Gkffm Pduke-Sxiak, Bari, 191s, p. «a. 



310 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

'Iya da m!' Middy exclaimed. She had decided that the guardians of 
the temple were an insufferable lot of boring old chatterboxes. Every- 
body was alike at Kyoto. What an intolerable place ! When was I going to 
start shooting the film? She liked Kobe, where everything was modan, 
there were plenty of cinemas, and you could buy nylons from the 
Americans; sometimes they even gave them away. She hated Kyoto, 
which was a cheesy old place. Why did I waste so much of my time here? 

One of the temple brothers appeared and summoned me with 
a smile, and I left Middy and Nicky to their nervous irritation. I asked 
the priest to switch off the loudspeaker, but he did not seem to see why. 
If I really disliked it, he would certainly switch it off, but it was the latest 
invention, it enabled everyone to hear distinctly, and was better than 
a guide, because it never made mistakes. When the blessed silence 
returned I was led into the famous tea-room, the prototype of all such 
places throughout Japan. I saw that everything was ready for a short 
and simple tea ceremony. The peace and tranquillity here seemed 
a thousand miles from the din which had descended on the garden 
outside. We took our places, kneeling and motionless, while the master 
with ritual gestures prepared the simple things that serve to boil the 
water and mix the fine green powder in the small, plain, carefully 
selected earthenware cups. 


Tea Ceremony 

Since the earliest times tea has been used by Buddhist monks to keep 
their minds alert during the long hours of meditation. Gradually the 
way of preparing and sipping it became a ritualized sequence of move- 
ments, a formal dance of significant gestures, designed to purge the mind 
of irrelevancies or mere petty or personal concerns and establish a state 
of tranquil, alert receptivity, free of all contingent things. It is a state of 
mind closely akin to that aimed at by monastic discipline, the discipline 
of meditative yoga, and the ancients considered it the proper state of 
mind in which to examine a painting, an old vase, a rare object brought 
back by a friend from a long journey. Thus, in the framework of the 
Zen philosophy, there was born the fascinating figure of the cha-jin (tea- 
master), who was monk, thinker, artist, critic, craftsman, judge or 
creator or missionary of beauty. The Japanese in fact speak of the cha-do, 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND JSI 

‘the way of tea*, thus returning to the fundamental concept of path, 
way, too, micfci, and investing tea-drinking with a high philosophic 
dignity. 

In the general striving for aesthetic perfection everything con- 
nected with the rite was the object of extreme care. The room, for 
example, had to be small, of cell-like simplicity and rustic serenity, so 
that on entering it an immediate sense of purification should be felt, as 
was the case in the room in which I was then sitting. I looked round; 
nothing was to be seen but wood, straw, the dry earth of the wall, 
irregular and pleasing to the touch. I reflected that in this room Yoshi- 
masa, Noami, Sdami, Shukd, Shubun, and many other explorers of 
virgin aesthetic territory used to meet. 

This room was the starting-point of a branch of architecture, that 
,f the tea pa< ‘lion, the canons of which spread to Japanese domestic 
architecture and today exercise a subtle influence on the whole world 
through Frank Lloyd Wright and other leading architects. This room 
was of the archaic type, and formed part of the house, the temple-villa; 
later, in the sixteenth century, particularly under the influence of Sen 
no Rikyu (1518-1591), that great master of the tea ceremony and all that 
went with it, separate huts were built with their own tiny garden. These 
rustic refuges, the purpose of which was the elevation of the mind by the 
contemplation of beauty, were called sukiya ; they were approached by 
a narrow garden path, scattered with big stones eroded by time, which 
served to mark it off* from the outside world (Photograph 93). In its 
classic form this modest building includes a small waiting-room 
(machiai) ; another small room, which might be called the pantry (mituya ); 
and finally the tea-room proper— or would it be better to call it tea- 
chapel? Words, as usual, fail when you try to apply them to the things of 
another civilization; in the face of oriental phenomena western words 
are like inch and yard rules set to measure metres and centimetres; 
eastern words are of course just as inadequate to describe western 
phenomena. 

Sukiya , as Okakura explains in his colourful manner, was originally 
written with two characters which can be translated Abode of Fantasy. 
This implies that it is a highly personal thing, subtly expressing the 
personality of its designer. Another important thing to note is that it is 
not intended to be permanent; it is not made for posterity. Just as the 



3X2 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

body, according to Buddhist teaching, is a mere clothing, a shell, a tem- 
porary dwelling, so is the hut a fleeting, transitory thing, a resting-place 
for a night or a brief morning. The perishability of all things is suggested 
by the thatched roof; the fragility of life by the slender pillars; lightness 
by the bamboo support; and the use of commonplace materials testifies 
to non-involvement, non-attachment . 1 

Chajin, the tea masters of later generations, also used other com- 
binations of ideograms to write sukiya, for instance Abode of the Void, or 
Abode of the Asymmetrical. ‘Abode of the Void’, besides the obvious 
reference to Buddhist metaphysics, implies an important aesthetic 
principle: that the pavilion must be only itself. When guests are not 
expected it must remain pure form, rigorously bare, scrupulously clean. 
The few things required to adorn it are arranged by the owner ad hoc , 
according to the occasion and the pattern that he will have in his mind 
to draw attention to some event, to suggest a state of mind or to evoke 
a person’s memory, or to establish a relationship. The hut is, so to speak, 
a musical instrument; the manner in which it is furnished on any par- 
ticular occasion is the music. This may be in honour of friendship, love, 
reverence, joy, even hatred or contempt. These things can be expressed 
in words, notes, rhythm, and tones; they can also be expressed in 
pictures, flowers, things, odours. The principle at work here is totally 
different, not only from that of the west, but I imagine from that of all 
other civilizations, under whose aesthetic dictates ‘an interior perma- 
nently filled with a vast array of pictures, statuary and bric-k-brac gives 
the impression of mere vulgar display of riches .* 1 

One of the results of this was that until very recent times the idea of 
a museum or art gallery was completely alien to the Japanese mentality. 
The idea of a collection of works of art accessible to one or a thousand 
visitors is— like that of a panorama— typically western. In the east the 
communion between work of art and connoisseur is profoundly indi- 
vidual, an art in itself. The owner likes to keep his precious things hidden 
in his kura (store-room), and to produce them for the delectation of his 
friends one at a time, as one might a special bottle of old wine. Nowa- 
days there are good museums at Tokyo, Nara, and Kyoto, but it is still 
difficult to gain an adequate idea of certain periods in the history of 

1 To paraphrase K. Oxakuia, Tht Book ofTta, New York, 1906. 

"K. Okatuba. 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN Of SAND 


» 

Japanese art because many important works are in inaccessible private 
collections. v 

Incidentally, it should be noted that the very idea of a history of 
art, with its objective, rigid, hierarchical evaluations, its kings, barons, 
and plebs among artists, is an entirely western phenomenon, typical of 
our dualist universe, which is as full of pigeon-holes and filing cabinets 
as a big business office. Orientals approach a work of art much more 
instinctually, much less with their intellect and their culture behind 
them, and open their whole personality to it. What counts with them 
is the subjecthfe impact, the spark that is struck at the moment of 
integration, which is always new, always different, always unpredict- 
able. They know that they are perhaps less endowed with culture but 
they feel that they are subtly closer to life. From this point of view 
. useums and c illeries and histones of art have no more than a practical 
value, similar to that of a railway time-table. 

But to return to the sukiya . 'Abode of the Asymmetrical* brings us 
back to the heart of Zen. Symmetry suggests completeness, the aping 
of an abstract and artificial perfection, an outward, unreal pattern, and 
Zen refuses to have anything to do with it; it desires to plunge directly 
into the world of becoming, into the palpitating, living world, into the 
life-blood which animates stars, plants, and men. It therefore prefers the 
asymmetrical, which it equates with the dynamic. Symmetry is repeti- 
tive, mechanical; asymmetry may sometimes yield a flash of intuition 
of the truth. Symmetry imposes an abstract pattern on things; in 
asymmetry things impose their own life on patterns. An important 
corollary of this is that in the decoration of the sukiya the artisri- 
representation of the human form is excluded. Man is already in the 
room, whether as host or guest, and for him to be represented there in 
painting or sculpture would be repetitive, ‘symmetrical’, unnecessary, 
and therefore excessive. In this respect Zen teaching had a profound 
effect on nearly the whole of the art of eastern Asia. Greek art, and 
European art which is derived from it, see the universe in man ; here man 
is seen in the universe. 

The tea masters paid the same meticulous care to the painting, the 
arrangement of the flowers, the burning of incense, the choice of 
utensils, teapot, cups, bamboo .mixers, the stylization of every gesture 
in the accompanying rites, as they paid to the place where the ceremony 



314 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

took place. The clothing worn, the style of speech used, and even the 
poetry that might be composed or recited, all claimed their attention. 
Once the great principles of Zen were'accepted, its influence extended 
to most aspects of everyday life. Here I shall briefly refer to three spheres 
in which Zen influence was particularly profound, namely, painting, 
flowers, and poetry. 

In painting Zen had inspired the great Chinese masters of the Sung 
period (960-1279), leading to a technique of extreme simplicity, that of 
black ink on white paper (sumi-e) and a rigorous purity of line; the aim 
was to surprise the essence of the world with the simplest means. Had 
it not served to interpret an elegiac and romantic vision of life, this 
would have been a hard path indeed. The object was to seize the ultimate 
essence of rock, water, tree, and flower. But it is not analytic passion, but 
a spirit of warm brotherhood, that guides the artist’s hands; there is 
nearly always a little temple, a distant fisherman, a meditating sage, to 
tell us how the vast white voids pregnant with space are to be under- 
stood. When Zen was introduced into Japan this kind of painting came 
with it, and it was taken up, developed, perfected by an extraordinary 
series of artists, many of whom formed part of Yoshimasa’s circle. 
Grousset says: 

The true heirs of the Chinese Sung masters, those who con- 
tinued, developed, surpassed their work and their formulas, are not 
the landscapists of the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644), who were 
pedestrian artists without originality, but the Japanese landscapists 
of the temper of Jasoku, Sesshu, Soami.’ 1 

This applies above all to Sesshu (1420-1506), whom Grousset calls one 
of the most vigorous landscapists of all time. The trees howling in the 
storm born of the imperious and disdainful strokes of his brush are not 
just seen with the eye, but felt with the fingers, with the cold of winter 
in the blood, with the anguish of one who has been a tree through 
successive incarnations and knows all that is to be known about trees. 
The sea, the oldest thing in the world, strikes the rocks which bar its 
way with a fury that can have been felt only by one who has been a 
wave; his mountains writhe like giants in torment, his boats have 

&. Giousarr, Iff CifiUsaticra de VOrkm , VoL IV, U Jqon, Paria, 1930, p. us. 



WISDOM IN A GRAIN OF SAND )t) 

a heart-rending fragility; and he does all this with a brush dipped in ink, 
with no recourse to formulas, decoration, embellishments, compro- 
mises. Grousset says of Sesshu : ‘Chinese art, even among the great, was a 
school art, a collective religion. Japanese art, even in the joint work of a 
whole school, impatiently betrays the artist’s irreducible personality.’ In 
Sesshu you feel the personality of a kamikaze directed, not to the madness 
of destruction, but to the penetration of the ultimate secret of things. 

This impassioned discipline caused eastern artists many centuries 
ago to try things which in the west have been tried only in the last 
century; namely, to penetrate to the essence of personality (human, 
animal, vegetable, mineral), striving, not to capture its outer resem- 
blance, but to reveal aspects of it unknown until the artist revealed them, 
aspects truer than any mere resemblance; and then, choosing the 
mplest and rarest of these possibly infinite aspects, stripping them, 
denuding them, laying them bare, until finally the soul, the ultimate 
‘wind’ of life, lay exposed. 

After pictures come flowers. From the earliest times Buddhist 
altars have been decorated with flowers arranged according to certain 
principles. With the Zen masters and the tea cult flower arrangement 
developed into a fine art. It subsequently spread, and many different 
schools arose; it became independent, grew more and more specialized, 
and in the modern age reached crazy extremes which are nearer 
Surrealism or abstraction than to the spirit of Zen. Common to them 
all is the fundamental principle that the flower has the dignity of 
individual personality. With us there prevail the sad standards of 
abundance, riches, symmetry, repetition. What is the use of one flower 1 
You need at least fifty. Flowers are used as splashes of colour, as a 
source of pleasing scents, a luxurious embellishment— that is to say, 
when the chief interest is not their human background, who sent them, 
or how many of them there are as a measure of the homage intended. 
The Japan ese, however, believe that quantity hopelessly submerges the 
beauty of the individual flower, and have an infinite number of ways of 
bringing out and emphasizing it by contrast and association. Just as 
silenre em phasizes speech, so is a single flower, or a handful of flowers, 
able to express a whole gamut of emotions in the hands of a master. 
The Ja pa ne se apply the same principle of seeking out the beauty in 
ordinary, simple, everyday objects to many things besides flowers. 



316 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

It was only natural that the intransigent attitude of Zen, which 
takes life by the throat and shakes it— surely it must be one of the most 
original philosophies that any civilization has produced— should have 
a profound effect on poetry. Here I shall overlook the long formative 
period in Japanese literary history, and come straight to Basho (1644- 
1694), in whom Zen attained a poetical pinnacle. Poetry went through 
the same process as painting; the superfluous was ruthlessly cut away, 
leaving everything to be concentrated in the haikai or haiku of seventeen 
syllables. Poetry is not an explosion, but an implosion; there is no point 
of arrival, only a point of departure. The reader does not follow, but 
takes part in the creative act. A haiku is an invitation to the reader’s 
imagination to take wing. Parallel with the heroic formal discipline of 
the haiku went an enlargement of theme until every aspect of life was 
included, but particularly the ordinary, humble, trivial details which by 
the law of contrast and compensation reflect more vividly the eternal 
and infinite. 


Ochi-zam tii 
Mizu hboshi-keri 
Hanatsubaki 


Behold ! A camelia flower 
Spilt water when it fell I 


The influence of Zen philosophy on Japanese life and of the tea 
masters in particular was so vast, subtle, and profound that, though 
there are other forces that conflict with it, it is still to be met with at 
every step. Serenity and purity are the two nuclei round which it 
revolves. Serenity implies engaging in life, not withdrawing from it, 
though clearly aware that only the relative is absolute, that nothing is 
permanent except change, that only death is life. Purity implies insist- 
ence on essentials, aesthetic cleanliness, intolerance of ornamentation 
and display. Hence in the moral sphere it implies self-commitment and 
loyalty, and undeviating pursuit of a course once decided on. 

Two words often to be heard in Japan in connection with these 
things are wabi and sabi. As so often happens in the case of words charged 
with subtle intellectual and emotional overtones that go to the heart 
of a civilization, their full meaning is hard to render. Wabi in the narrow 
sense indicates 'a life of poverty and avoidance of luxury, remote from 
falsity and intrigue’. He who lives according to wabi is content with 



WISDOM IN A GEAIN OF SAND 


3K7 

simple things, has understood the wisdom of rocks and grasshoppers, 
serenely accepts poverty as an enrichment of the spirit, as a state in 
which it is easier to gain an understanding of the secret flux of the 
universe. Here we reach the level of that total philosophy of life which 
is so typical of the Far East. Sabi has a not dissimilar meaning, but refers 
rather to things and places; it brings to mind a certain Unpretentious 
rusticity, an archaic imperfection* (D. T. Suzuki), which puts men and 
matter into a relationship of loving intimacy. This implies somewhere 
in the background a solitary, a hermit, actively putting all this into 
practice. 

Another term that belongs to the same order of ideas and is also 
frequently to be met with is shibui ; its literal meaning is 'astringent*, but 
in the domain of aesthetics and conduct it is used in the sense of 'good 
.ste*. There is no need to add that this kind of good taste implies 
sobriety, and excludes richness, display, and ostentation. 

Finally, the term fuga (or firyu) indicates a way of life fully inspired 
by Zen principles. It is 'the chaste enjoyment of life . . . identification of 
the self with the creative spirit, the spirit of the beauty of nature. A man 
of fuga finds his friends among flowers and animals, in rocks and water, 
in showers and the moon.’ (D. T. Suzuki.) 

Needless to say, everything has its obverse side. In the hands of 
foolish persons the tea ceremony degenerates into a meaningless 
formality, a lifeless fossil, an absurd form of aesthetic snobbery. Simi- 
larly, the cult of simplicity has often led to aridity in painting, triteness 
in poetry, coldness in interior decoration. All in all, however, the 
aesthetic vigilance of the Japanese has enabled them to avoid these rocks 
with surprising consistency. 

1 found Middy still sitting on the veranda. She said that she was 
fed up, and was going home. 1 had kept them hanging about all day 
without showing them anything. Nicky had not been able to stand the 
stink of incense any longer, and had gone. Had I a cigarette for her? 
What? Not even a cigarette? 

By now it really was time to go ; the garden was closed to the public. 
I had one more walk round; I enjoyed the feeling of belonging to the 
place, of not having to share it with the crowd. Middy followed me. We 
sat on the grass and talked ; or rather my contribution was an occasional 
monosyllable, while she unburdened herself. 



JIS MEETING WITH JAEAN 

She had been so happy at Kobe, she said, producing some more 
chewing-gum from her pocket and starting to unwrap it. Her father 
was going to Tokyo, on business, or so he said, but what about her? She 
had to stay with her sisters, the boring Kimi and the provoking Rei-ko. 
And at Kyoto too, iyana tokoro da-wa, that disagreeable place where every- 
one was so stuck up, though they didn’t have a penny. Who did they 
think they were? They were still in the Middle Ages, they had no spirit 
of enterprise. Did I know what she would like to do? Go to Tokyo i She 
had had enough of school and all that nonsense; she wanted to go into 
films. But her family wouldn’t let her. 

I asked her whether she had ever been to Tokyo. 

Yes, she said, they had lived there during the war. She remembered 
as if it had been only yesterday the Emperor’s speech in which he had 
said he was no longer a god. What a shock ! She had really believed him 
to be a god, just as surely as that tree over there was a pine. It had been 
a shock from which she had never recovered. But what did it matter? 
They had all been very stupid in the old days. It was just as well that 
they had lost the war, and that the Americans had come. Now they 
were free, and could do what they liked. We did what we liked at home, 
didn’t we? 

Middy picked up a pebble, and threw it into the ancient pond; it 
made the same splash as the frog had made earlier, but this time it 
sounded like an angry frog, a frog on the war-path. She picked up 
another pebble, and threw it farther. The third pebble she threw ended 
up in the Silver Pavilion, where it tore a piece of paper of the shoji, 
making a sinister, rasping sound. 

’Midori, stop it ! What’s the matter with you?’ 

She got up, laughing bitterly, and ran away. I ran after her, caught 
her up, and stopped her. 

'Don’t be silly!’ she exclaimed, still laughing. ‘Why do you make 
so much fuss about that stupid old wooden pavilion? One day it’ll be 
rebuilt in concrete, as tall as a skyscraper!’ 




10 


Kyoto, Golden Skies 


Momoyama, Peach-Tree Hill 

• glance at the history of almost any field of activity in Japan is 
t \ sufficient. io show the importance of the dynastic principle; the 
imperial pattern is reproduced practically everywhere. A notable and 
famous example is provided, for instance, by the tea masters. These, 
descended from Ndami (1397-1494), multiplied, formed a genealogical 
tree of extreme complexity, and transmitted the consecrated oil to the 
present day (schools of Ura-senke, Omotc-senke, etc.). Other famous 
dynasties are those of the great actors — the Danjuro, for instance, of 
whom the first lived from 1660 to 1704 and the ninth from 1838 to 1903; 
the sword-makers, of whom the greatest were the Goto family; and the 
great financiers, such as the Mitsui, who are active in fields as diverse as 
banking and heavy industry, retail trade and chemical manufacture. 
There are similar dynasties of calligraphers, musicians, masters of flower 
arrangement, wizards, woodworkers, and Prime Ministers. The pattern 
is endlessly repeated in every department and at every level of Japanese 
life. Anyone who has seen the film Akasen Chitai (‘Street of Shame’)* will 
recall the brothel-keeper’s boast that his family ‘has honourably kept 
this place for four generations’. 

The dynastic principle rests on two foundations: the pyramidal 
order of society and the family. The former is inherent in the Japanese 
attitude to life. In the case of the latter, the link is mental rather than 
biological; what counts is not so much consanguinity as breathing the 
same air for many years. Every dynasty, from that of the Emperor to 

1 literally *Red line Quarter*. 


*19 



310 MEETING WITH JAfAN 

that of the humblest artisan, is, when possible, carried on directly from 
father to son, but, if the male line fails, or a son shows no aptitude to 
follow in his father’s footsteps, resort is had to adoption. Sometimes 
a favourite pupil or son-in-law steps into the son's place, 1 sometimes 
a total stranger is sought out. All this reflects a fundamental axiom of 
the oriental mind, that knowledge, skill, an art, can be transmitted only 
by direct and constant contact with the master, involving all the 
faculties of the mind; books, or the intellect alone, are capable only of 
grazing the surface. 

Two of the most famous dynasties in the history of Japanese civili- 
zation, which have left indelible traces on the Japanese artistic tradition, 
are those of the Tosa and Kano schools of painting. The Tosa dynasty 
was founded in the thirteenth century by Fujiwara Tsunetaka, the lord 
of Tosa— hence the name taken by his descendants— and continues 
nominally to the present day. The Kano school originated with the 
painter Kano Masanobu (1434-1330), who was also connected with the 
Fujiwara family and was a member of the Higashi-yama group whose 
patron was Ashikaga Yoshimasa; his descendants, divided into half 
a dozen schools and sub-schools, were active until recent times and 
some are still active today. 

The Tosa school specialized in a genre called yamato-e 9 which de- 
veloped exclusively out of native traditions and owed hardly anything 
to Chinese influence. Its principal application was the illustration in 
miniature books and on scrolls of classical literary subjects, such as the 
Talt of Genji. The Kano school, on the other hand, stood for Chinese 
ideals, modified by the highly personal Japanese sensibility. Tsuda 
illustrates the mentality of the two schools by contrasting the way in 
which they would paint the same object, a pine-tree. 

The gorgeousness of feeling and naivet£ in those pine pictures 
are due much to the influence of the military atmosphere of the 
age in which the Kano school developed. Quite in contrast to the 
vigorous style of the Kano school, the Tosa school, which originated 
in the court of the Fujiwara period, produced an art both delicate 
and feminine.’ 1 

1 A clinic example Is that of the painter Kano Sanraku (1961-1*33). the son-in-law and succesor 
of the gnat Eitoku (1543-1590). 

■ N. Tmjda. Mtalt of J opm tst fimtmg, Tokyo, 1990. 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


321 


Incidentally, this author’s choice of a pine-tree with which to make 
his point provides a luminous and unexpected glimpse of the difference 
of attitudes between east and west. A western critic would in all proba- 
bility have chosen the human figure for his purpose, no doubt the 
female nude; he would no doubt have pointed out that some painters 
—Van Eyck, for instance — painted undressed women rather than true 
nudes, while others, such as Michelangelo and the Venetians, revealed 
an almost pagan attitude. Examples such as these illustrate the differ- 
ences in the attitude to nature of east and west. 

At the end of the fifteenth century an event took place which had 
important repercussions on the subsequent history of Japanese art; the 
son of Kano Masanobu, the young Kano Motonobu (1476-1559), married 
the daughter of Tosa Mitsunobu, thus merging the two traditions. The 
r* ult was a dvrusty— still that of the Kano — which for three centuries 
held a supreme position in the Japanese pictorial arts. Among the 
countless artists of this school — Mitsunobu, Sadanobu, Noriboru, 
Tansen, Tanrin, Tangen, Ein5, Eikei, Eigaku, all members of the Kano 
clan— three great names stand out: those of Kano Eitoku (1543-1590), 
Kano Sanraku (1561-1635), and Kano Tanyu (1602-1674). It should not be 
forgotten, of course, that other notable schools were also active at this 
period, notably those founded by. Kaiho Yush5 (1533-1615), Hasegawa 
Tohaku (1539-1610), and Unkoku Togan (1547-1618). 

Let us leave these great masters for a moment and consider the 
Japan in which they lived; their art is difficult to understand without 
reference to their environment. The line of Ashikaga shoguns which, it 
will be recalled, started in 133 8 with Ashikaga Takauji, theoretically 
continued until the deposition of Ashikaga Yoshiaki in 1573. Distin- 
guished though this dynasty was for its patronage of the arts in the 
persons of Yoshimitsu and Yoshimasa, as governors its members were 
generally weak and incompetent. From the end of the Onin war (1477) 
onwards Japan was in a continual state of anarchy; Japanese historians 
call this period, which lasted for about a century, sengoku jtdai ('the period of 
the country at war’). Clearly, if Japan had not been isolated from the Asian 
land-mass and had had hostile neighbours on her borders, she would have 
fallen an easy victim to invasion, with a profound effect on her subse- 
quent history. But her privileged position postponed disaster for another 
four or five centuries, perhaps making it the more terrible when it came. 



322 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

Half-way through the sixteenth century things were ripe for 
change, and the next fifty years constituted an extremely important 
phase in Japanese history. On the one hand, feudal consolidation had 
reached a point at which individual domains were big and powerful 
enough for the more energetic among the barons to be tempted to 
think of uniting Japan under their sway. To give some idea of these 
violent and tempestuous times, it is sufficient to note that Sansom 
records that, of the approximately 260 great feudal lords known before 
the Onin war (1467-1477), barely a dozen survived at the end of the 
sixteenth century; an entirely new aristocracy superseded the old . 1 On 
the other hand, from 1542 onwards strangers of a type never seen before 
made their appearance in Japan, that is to say namban-jin (southern bar- 
barians), i.e., Europeans. First the Portuguese arrived, and then the 
Spaniards, bringing with them new things which profoundly affected 
the traditional play of forces; fire-arms and Christianity. The second 
half of the sixteenth century was a period in which great forces were 
at work and great new influences made themselves felt; it seemed 
a prelude to a period totally different from that which in fact followed 
under the influence of lyeyasu and his descendants. 

Thus at the opening of the sixteenth century [Grousset writes], 
Japan resembled fifteenth-century Italy. The moral authority of the 
Emperors descended from the sun had disappeared just as that of 
the Roman pontiffs had done. The military power of the Ashikaga 
shoguns, like that of the Germanic Caesars, had vanished. In Kyoto, 
the imperial city, the Emperor and the shogun were held in check 
by the local clans just as the Pope had been in Rome. In place of 
these two great traditional authorities some ten principalities, as 
restless and ambitious as the houses of Rimini or Borgia, Visconti, 
or Medici had been in Italy, divided up the archipelago among 
them, exercising a supremacy as sovereign as theirs. These great 
daimyos of the sixteenth century should, indeed, be regarded some- 
thing in the light of the princes of the Italian Renaissance, each 
pursuing a dynastic policy by force or cunning, and keeping up 
a regular system of mutual embassies, elegant social relations, and 
artistic intercourse— not to speak of espionage and treachery— and 
1 G. B. Sansom, Ik. dt„ p. w. 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 33) 

all swayed solely by reasons of state. But in addition to this they 
were splendid Maecenases and great lovers of art and poetry, 
attaching the same importance to the acquisition of a kakemono or 
the composition of a haiku as to winning of a battle.’ 1 

Fortune had it that at this period three great men arose who for 
a substantial part of their lives collaborated to the same end, the reuni- 
fication of the country. The first to emerge was Oda Nobunaga 
(1534-15S2); the son of a minor baron, he displayed brilliant military gifts 
from his youth, and in a succession of victories subdued the majority of 
his rival daimyo , the Takeda, the Uesugi, the Asakura, the Asai, the 
Miyoshi; destroyed with terrible completeness the turbulent monks of 
Mount Hiei (1571) and of the Ikk 5 sect (1576); and deposed the last Ashi- 
.aga shogun After reuniting the central and most important part 
of Japan, he was killed by a rebel general at the age of forty-eight. He 
was courageous and persevering, though violent and quarrelsome, and 
showed a political wisdom in advance of his time. He was well disposed 
towards foreigners, favoured trade with the rest of Asia, and aimed at 
overcoming Japan’s natural isolation. He also favoured Christianity, 
perhaps for more than just political reasons, and the new religion made 
great headway, particularly in Kyushu and the Kyoto area 

After his death his place was taken by Hideyoshi, who until modern 
times was the only Japanese of truly popular origin who ever exercised 
supreme power in Japan. He was a peasant’s son, and his exceptional 
qualities of intelligence and courage gained him a high position in 
Nobunaga’s forces. He seems to have been small and ugly, but to ha%e 
possessed unlimited ambition and self-assurance. His career was a suc- 
cession of battles, alliances, intrigues, victories, which resulted in his 
ending up on terms of familiarity with the Emperor and brought him 
the highest titles in the land, those of kampaku and taiko.* More interesting 
is the strong influence that his personality had on his times; he had in 
over-abundant measure the characteristics which so many observers 
have found lacking in Japanese civilization as a whole, that is to say 

‘ R. Giousrr, fee. dt., p. tea. 

" 'He has been compared to Napoleon and 10 Alexander the Great, and tf the room In which 
he fought and schemed had not been a little one, remote from the great continental impulses, the 
character of the might well have changed history in Alia and In Europe.' L WaiMnu 71s 

Burning Art of Japm, Harvard. tfjt, p. •>. 



324 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

a desire for greatness, space, grandeur. Everything about him breathed 
a robust, peasant paganism, and everything he did had to be on the 
grand scale. Not satisfied with shocking the bourgeois and the plebs, he 
took special delight in shocking the court, the tremulous nobles of 
Kyoto. Had a huge statue of the Buddha been erected in the Nara period, 
and another in the Kamakura epoch? Well then, a bigger one must be 
built in Kyoto. Had it taken twenty-seven years to complete the Nara 
statue? This time the work must be done in five. When it was pointed 
out to him that in all the forests of Japan there were no trees big enough 
for the purpose except at the foot of Mount Fufi, he sent 50,000 men to 
cut them down and bring them back. 

As no residence worthy of him was available after his appointment 
as regent, he built himself a villa-palance-hermitage-park which he called 
Juraku-tei ('Dwelling of Pleasure’), where he gathered all the splendid 
things that the Empire could supply. The greatest artists of the time were 
summoned to decorate halls, verandas, galleries with an unpre- 
cedented magnificence. Contemporary chronicles (Taiko-ki, The Annals 
of the Taiko’) speak of gates guarded by iron pillars and copper doors; 
of high towers which shone like stars in the sky; of roof-tiles which 
roared in the wind, and of golden dragons which sang songs among the 
clouds .’ 1 When the building was complete Hideyoshi sent an invitation 
to the Emperor in person ; and the latter and his court were entertained 
at celebrations that lasted for five whole days. On such occasions 
Hideyoshi used to distribute gifts on a fabulous scale among the nobles 
and ladies of the court; not even the esoteric tea ceremony held him in 
awe. On November 1, 1587, he gave a party on the Plain of Pines, outside 
Kyoto, to which he invited literally the whole of Japan; public notices 
announcing the fact were put up a month in advance in all the chief 
cities, and on the appointed day connoisseurs arrived from all over the 
country to sip green tea and admire the works of art displayed for the 
occasion. Other favourite pastimes of his were the public distribution of 
gold coins to members of his household and his vassals. At Osaka he 
built the biggest and most formidable castle known in Japanese history 
(it was destroyed by partisans of the Tokugawa in 1868). At Momoyama 
('Peach-Tree Hill'), near Kyoto, the magnificent palace that he built 
gave its name to this whole period. 

* F. Bunxut, A Himj tf tkijafmmfmpk, New York, 1 ms, pp. ioe-7. 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


525 


Under Hideyoshi’s leadership the Japanese attempted their first big 
oversea venture, the invasion of Korea and an attack on China. Two 
expeditions were sent, in 1592-3 and 1597-8, but the results were dubious 
and did not lead to the establishment of a real empire. The first serious 
persecutions of Christians took place at this time; Hideyoshi suspected 
them of aiming at the political and military conquest of the country. 
The first twenty-six martyrs were crucified at Nagasaki in 1597. When 
Hideyoshi died in 1598 the work of national unification was well on the 
way to completion, and he did all in his power to ensure that it would 
be completed by his descendants. 

It was completed, however, not by them, but by Tokugawa Iyeyasu 
(1542-1616), a member of a great family ultimately descended, like nearly 
all the great families of )apan, from the Minamoto. Iyeyasu had fought 
. .ider Nobunaru and Hideyoshi; now his moment had come. Both his 
predecessors had been violent, impulsive men; lve\asu, however, was 
a Machiavellian. Nobunaga and Hideyoshi passed across the skies like 
meteors, leaving only glory behind, but Iyeyasu made his way like a fox 
or, perhaps better, a spider, craftily enclosing his enemies in a net from 
which there was no escape. He had himself appointed shogun by the 
Emperor in 160% and fourteen members of his family succeeded him and 
held Japan in their grip until 1868. In the battle of Sekigahara on October 
21, 1600, he defeated an alliance of daimyo who rejected his overlordship, 
and 40,000 enemy heads were the trophy of the day. Henceforward Japan 
was at his feet. In 1615 he destroyed the descendants of Hideyoshi, who 
represented the last force hostile to him. 

With Iyeyasu a new age begins; a heroic, luminous age, rich iti 
infinite possibilities, had ended; its successor was meaner and pettier, 
dominated by fear and suspicion, spying and bureaucracy. Once Iyeyasu 
had gathered power completely into his own hands, his only thought 
was how to preserve it for his descendants. Was it necessary to shut Japan 
off from contact with the outside world? Well, he shut it off. Was it 
necessary to exterminate Christianity, or any germ of new thought 
which might open new horizons to his subjects? Without hesitation he 
did so. Was it necessary to force political, social, artistic life into patterns 
intended to be immutable? Let the means be found for attaining such 
absurd aims. 

The characters of the great men of the sixteenth century have been 



326 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

neatly summed up in some epigrammatic couplets. Nobunaga, freed 
with a reluctant cuckoo, said: 

NaJmeba korosu I shall kill the cuckoo if it will 

Hototogisu not sing. 

Hideyoshi, was cleverer; he said: ‘ Nakashite miyo' (1 shall invite it to 
sing). Iyeyasu, the cleverest of the three, said : 'Nairn made maid 9 (I shall wait 
for it to sing). There is also a print, probably dating from a later period, 
which shows Nobunaga, aided by some faithful friends, pounding rice 
in a mortar, Hideyoshi kneading it, as Japanese peasants do, and 
Iyeyasu calmly eating the cake made by the work of others . 1 

To an extent, and making the due allowances, the resemblance 
noted by Grousset between Japan and Italy can be carried further for- 
ward in time. In both countries the sixteenth century was a period of 
disorderly splendour, followed by a long period of peace and repression, 
imposed in Italy by French, Spaniards, Austrians, in Japan by a dominant 
family oligarchy. In the second half of the nineteenth century both 
countries reawakened to find that the modern world had passed them 
by. Both tried desperately to overtake the arrears, and in both an 
anachronistic experiment ended in defeat. 

But let us return to the field of art. As the reader will have realized, 
conditions in the second half of the sixteenth century were profoundly 
different from those of the immediately preceding period. Previously 
all creative effort had been drawn off into the ethereal atmosphere in 
which a few recluses lived remote from the world, but now there was 
a glorious song of life, a desire for space, abundance, and splendour. The 
masters of the Kano school, notably Eitoku (1543-1590) and Sanraku 
(1561-1635)1 to say nothing of those of the lesser schools, such as Yushd 
(1533-1615)1 Tdhaku (1539-1610), or Tdgan (1547-1618), responded admirably 
to the new spirit without sacrificing anything to vulgarity, exhibitionism, 
crudeness. Starting with Nobunaga, the great candattieri built themselves 
castles the like of which had not previously been seen in Japan. Hide- 
yoshi and his vassals built impressive palaces and magnificent villas, in 
which important personages gathered to deal with matters of state; and 
the builders of these edifices left vast surfaces which required decoration. 

1 Reproduced In E Pannot. Historical md Geographical DicHmmy of Jopm, Yokohama. 909, p. fM 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 39 

Hitherto colour had been confined to the illustration of books or 
miniature scrolls Now, applied with the consummate Chinese brash 
stroke, it flourished across the entire walls of council chambers, throne- 
rooms, banqueting halls, and reception-rooms. Gold was used royally 
to serve as sky, cloud, light, distant background. The period which 
Warner calls that of the Great Decorators began; the age of Rubenses, 
not of buxom queens and Muses or Venuses with breasts swollen with 
Flemish milk, but of pines, the moon, wild duck, plum, and cherry, 
Chinese hermits and sages. 

Homage to the Great Decorators 

This morning Giorgio, Jane, and I decided to make a brief tour of 
.omage to thr Great Decorators. 1 drove to Giorgio's hotel, hidden 
among the pines of the Eastern Hills just above the Yasaka pagoda, 
where he likes staying in Kyoto when he is not in too much of a hurry. 
Like so many of the best things in Japan it is a place you hardly ever hear 
mentioned; it never advertises, and I believe it is not mentioned in any 
list of Kyoto hotels published for travellers, either Japanese or foreign. 
But it has existed for many years, and it has its loyal habitues; admission 
is by introduction only. It is a place of concealed luxury. When you enter 
the little garden by which you approach it, it is like entering a hermitage, 
but the sophisticated eye notes the fine quality of every detail, the rare 
woods (which look like ordinary woods), the sober-coloured lacquer, 
a meticulous cleanliness that betrays the constant attention of a big 
staff which keeps the place with the care due to a precision instrument. 
At the door I noted a magnificent tsui-tate, the small screen across the 
passage-way which incidentally serves to ward off evil spirits. In front of 
it was a magnificent example of the art of flower arrangement ; an almost 
breath-taking arrangement of pines and chrysanthemums. 

Before I had time to say gomen kudasai, a young waitress appeared, 
wearing a white dust-coat over her kimono such as Japanese women 
wear for housework, and asked me what I wanted, her eyelids fluttering 
in a manner clearly intended to convey to the honourable gentleman 
present that he had made an enormous mistake in being so bold as to 
desire to cross the threshold. Then an old lady appeared, of severe dis- 
tinction in dress, manner, and appearance, followed by two small, 



328 MEETING WITH |A*AN 

strongly built, bald, old men dressed in blue, looking like two gnomes 
who spent their lives engaged in extremely delicate but strenuous work. 
I had some difficulty in making myself understood; Japanese are some- 
times so firmly convinced that they are unable to understand foreigners 
that they listen to you without hearing. However, the miracle-working 
name of Jyorujiyo-sama (Mr. Giorgio) eventually did the trick; the girl 
dissolved in smiles, the old lady bent like a reed in the wind, the gnomes 
beamed at each other with enormous satisfaction . 1 Ah sayo de gozaimasu-ka, 
hochira-e irasshaimase * (So that’s what you want, please come in !) After 
walking down a number of irregular corridors opening on to tiny 
courtyards where bamboos and twisted pine-trees grew and you kept 
coming across unexpected views of gardens, I reached the room, or 
rather the small pavilion, occupied by our luxurious hermit. 

‘Greetings, Giorgio Pasha.’ I said. 'Have you eaten your morning 
lotuses’ Have you addressed your prayers to the sun’ Have the fairies 
been reading poems to you about the vanity of human affairs V 

Actually Giorgio was sitting on a pile of cushions and glancing 
through a newspaper. He was wearing a Savile Row suit (no doubt for 
an important business engagement later in the day) and, while looking 
at the paper, was dictating a letter in English to his secretary— who was 
old and plain, a nisei (Japanese-American), I think, but of formidable 
efficiency— and at the same time sipping a cup of miso, a soup made of 
fermented beans of which we all got fond during our war-time intern- 
ment. Giorgio did not condescend to answer me. After a few moments 
he made some reference to the latest political news, and then said we 
must hurry, because Jane was waiting for us. We left, saying good-bye 
to the secretary, who said, ‘Okay, okay* in reply to everything. 

How depressing in comparison was the entrance to the big, western- 
style hotel in which Jane was staying. Gone was the hush, the sense of 
mystery and secrecy, the subtle connivance of looks, silences, quiet 
noises full of subtle implications. Here everything was public, com- 
mercialized, symmetrical. Giorgio's hotel was the essence of Kyoto, but 
here we were in Osaka, or New York. 

On the way to Hideyoshi’s mausoleum, beyond the Hoko-ji, we 
stopped at the Chishaku-in at the edge of the city. The architecture 
was not particularly interesting, and on a grey day like today temples 
which are not surrounded by a great deal of green take on a funereal 



KIOTO, GOLDEN SKIES - 


529 


colour which verges on the disagreeable. Inside, however, a feast awaited 
us— -the huge murals attributed to Kano Sanraku in the hall of honour 
(dtu-shoin), which seems once to have formed part of the Momoyama 
castle. Fines, cherry-trees in blossom, mmiji in their autumn sunset 
blaze, stood out against a background of golden skies; they seemed to 
possess a truth, a reality, exceeding that of any real forest. Berenson 
would talk of tactile values; one might also talk of olfactory values, 
values of the taste papillae. A kind of biological alchemv is at work; you 
become pine, cherry, mmiji ; feel the joys of the wind, the dew, the 
moon after a storm, the birds, the righteous sleep of the ancient stone. 

Giorgio, polishing his spectacles, talked with his usual learning 
about the artistic history of the period. All these attributions were 
terribly uncertain, he told us. For centuries the artist had been said to 
l Sanraku, but now the tendency was to connect these works with the 
name of Hasegawa Tohaku, a contemporary of his, who was influenced 
rather by the Sesshu school. Fortunately these details did not matter 
very much ; they were of interest only to a small number of scholars. The 
fact was that the whole of the Momoyama period was marvellous- 
intoxication with life expressed in symbols. 

Our next halt was at the Daitoku-ji, the Temple of the Great Virtue, 
a huge Zen monastery, one of the smaller pavilions of which contains 
some famous paintings by Kano Eitoku; pines, rocks, cranes with enor- 
mously long legs, some flowers. We should really have come here first, 
Giorgio explained, for here we could see the beginnings of the Momo- 
yama style. The sobriety was still that of the preceding period; colours 
were barely indicated by a fine dusting of gold. The beauty lay all in the 
nervous, wakeful line. 

As we were in these parts, we also visited the tiny garden of the 
Daisen-in, a famous example of Soami’s art. For centuries it was regarded 
as the supreme example of the style inspired by the principles of the 
tea masters. It contains nothing but stones and a few plants; water is 
represented by white sand. With its rocks, waterfalls, and wild vegetation 
it is a Sung painting. But the predominance of symbolism and learned 
references makes it, at any rate to the freer taste of our time, seem pain- 
fully restricted and forced. 

Next we went to the Myoshin-ji (‘Temple of the Sacred Heart'), 
another huge Zen monastery, with I do not know how many chapels 



330 MBBTING WITH JAFAN 

and cloisters. It, too, is rich in paintings by the great masters of the period, 
Kano Sanraku, Kaiho YushQ, Kano Motonobu. As usual, the traditional 
attributions have been revolutionized recently; the very uncertainty 
illustrates how uniformly high was the level of the period. After remov- 
ing our shoes, we were led by a benevolent, talkative monk down some 
ancient corridors of shining dark wood, and suddenly found ourselves 
surrounded by strange, imaginary tigers in a bamboo wood under 
a golden sky. These paintings, traditionally attributed to Kano Sanraku, 
strike you by their violence held in leash. This is something character- 
istically Japanese, which one keeps coming across in the most varied 
forms— in the dance, for instance, the theatre, and of course the cinema. 
It is a vibrant, explosive quality lurking behind the smooth, highly 
polished, perfectly controlled surface; the ecstatic sensuality of a snake 
in love betrayed only by symbols and echoes. Heavens, the green of those 
bamboos, and that golden sky! You feel that these artists are giving you 
new eyes with which to look at the world, that no bamboo will ever 
seem the same after you have seen theirs. For a moment you are ad- 
mitted to a marvellous, mystic relationship between man and things, 
between man and the rest of the universe. 

In the neighbouring rooms— there are many of them in a row in 
the cloister called the Tenkyu-in, and all are of the highest importance- 
flowers bring spring to life, snowy winter sleeps between trees and stones, 
not sufficiently, however, to stifle the perpetual youth of a gnarled old 
trunk which is putting forth shoots. A tiny bird, ready to take wing, is 
like the sound of a flute against a bass accompaniment (Photograph 106). 

In the last rooms of the Tenkyu-in there are several series of pic- 
tures in the Chinese manner; human figures, architecture, landscape. 
There are three philosophers, a group of sages, the four noble arts of 
music, chess, calligraphy, and painting; and so on and so forth. The 
drawing, rhythm, and colour are first-rate but there is a flavour of 
erudition and neo-classicism about these works; they represent skill 
pursuing a shadow, not genius opening a way. 

Last of all we visited the Nishi Hongan-ji, back in the city. But there 
are innumerable places at which homage should be paid; those of the 
Nanzen-ji, for instance, where Eitoku left many traces of his creative 
brilliance, and the Kennin-ji among others. There is no end to the things 
which must be seen at Kyoto. 



In i he Ka tom Garden 

The Katsura villa and garden date from the last years of the sixteenth 
century and the first of the seventeenth. Togethei they represent, not 
only ‘the supreme example of Japanese civil architecture*, 1 but, in view 
of the great Japanese influence on the ideas of modern architects, it is 
one of the key points in the artistic history of the world. Here there 
converge and fuse the ancient Yamato building tradition as preserved in 
the Ise temples and a few other places; the Chinese Sung influence as 
developed and transformed under the more specifically Japanese im- 
pulse of Zen; and, finally, the spirit of the tea masters at the time of its 
fullest flower. The Katsura villa was the starting-point of influences 
which profoundly affected the subsequent development of Japanese 
architecture, and laid the foundations for the taste which excites so 
much admiration at the present day among the architects and interior 
decorators of the world. It is a work of superb purity and a subtle, 
allusive beauty. There is no yielding to the temptations of pomposity, 
grandeur, superficiality; instead there is a heroic self-discipline, a rejec- 
tion of all superfluities; man stands purified in front of nature purified, 
so that both may merge and participate in ultimate being, the great 
secret. 

It is interesting to note that the Katsura villa dates from the Momo- 
yama period, or at any rate the years immediately after it; it thus shows 
how rich and varied the Japanese artistic panorama can be at any given 
moment. Nothing is falser than the idea of oriental fixity and monotony, 
which still survives with us, and is due simply to the fixity and monotony 
of western ignorance. 

The villa was built by order of Hideyoshi for Prince Toshihito, 
a nephew of the Emperor Ogimachi. Hideyoshi had adopted the prince 
in order to associate his family with the royal blood, with all which that 
implied. But then he had a son of his own, and Toshihito was relegated 
'to peaceful obscurity remote from politics’. The prince was one of the 
most cultivated men of his time; as a pupil of the critic and poet Yusai 
there were entrusted to his care literary manuscripts of the first im- 
portance, those of the Koiinshu, for example, as well as the original of the 
Tale of Genji. When he suited busying himself with this villa on the bank 

» T. YoaoDA, Tbfraot Han mi (Mi, London, on. 



m MEETING WITH JAPAN 

of the river Katsura, not far from Arashi-yama, at the gates of Kyoto, 
he wished it to be a repository of all that Japanese civilization had to 
offer. The Tale of Genji is particularly rich in descriptions of country 
mansions, palaces and gardens, and it appears that the Prince drew up 
his instructions to his gardeners and architects with these instructions 
in mind .’ 1 

It seems established that he entrusted the work to a celebrated tea 
master of the period, Kobori Enshu (1579-1647). Legend has it that Kobori 
undertook it on three conditions: that there should be no limit to what 
he was to be allowed to spend, or to the man-power that he was to be 
allowed to use; that in no circumstances whatever was he to be hurried; 
and that, in order not to disturb the plan in his mind by any untoward 
suggestions, nobody was to be allowed to see the work until it was 
complete. In other words, he is said to have been granted all the condi- 
tions which all artists since the beginning of time have always dreamt of 
and always will. 

I had arranged to meet my friend Ernesto Lanzetti on the bridge 
not far from the entrance. It was a magnificent day; the wealth of blue 
that is so typical of Japan, because of the great humidity, was in the air. 
The tops of the mountains stood out sharp and clear against the sky; 
their bases were lost in a horizontal curtain of haze, which shone like 
tsurugi, ancient Japanese straight swords. The trees, seen against the 
light, looked like strange, untidy shadows caught in the middle of a 
dance. 

In this part of the world it is the custom for weavers to send their 
workers, who are mostly Koreans, to wash their fabrics in the river; it 
seems that the combined action of water and sun helps to fix the colours. 
On some days the scene resembles some fantastic carnival. Long lengths 
of cotton, silk, and other materials are stretched out on the gravel to 
dry (Photograph 11), while others dance in the wind, hanging from 
lines held aloft by tall bamboo poles. Today some men were washing 
a load of violet and pink fabrics immediately under the bridge, and the 
whole river was stained violet and pink, as if an ink factory had over- 
flowed. When they saw me the men called out : ' Tabako ippott hudasaranai-ka >' 
(Had I any cigarettes for them?) Alas! I am a non-smoker. However, 
I went down to the stream-bed and took photographs, promising to 

1 A. Damn, The Architects cf Japm, New York, 1935. p. >57. 



KYOTO* GOLDEN SKIES 3)) 

send copies to those who gave me their name and address; they seemed 
well content with this bargain. 

Meanwhile Lanzetti’s car drew up on the bridge. I went up and 
greeted him. He told me he had a surprise for me. The surprise was 
sitting in the car; I could make out some shiny black hair and a thin 
neck. It was Tamako. She greeted me with her enchanting smile, and 
held out her hand to be shaken in the western manner. She wore a dark 
blue kimono with a light brown pattern, and a plain, straw-coloured oh 
of some rough material; the whole effect was very shibui (astringent), 
as was appropriate for a morning visit to the villa-hermitage of an 
ancient prince-poet. 

‘How is Tamako ?’ I asked. ‘Better now?’ 

'O-kage sama de, genki dc orimasu*, she replied (Thanks to your honour- 
aL j shadow, I am very well). She spoke as if she had made up her mind 
that every day and in every way she was getting better and better. She 
had evidently decided to turn over a new leaf, and forget about Giorgio. 
But how did she manage to geton with Ernesto, whospoke no Japanese? 
He explained that their conversation was conducted in English of the 
type: You not like, we not go, or if you tired , here can rest. 

Ernesto was missing a great deal by not understanding Japanese, 
for Tama was a delight to listen to— voice, intonation, the way she 
expressed herself, everything. The Japanese spoken by men and women 
differs greatly, of course. Men use brief verbal forms, rather like military 
commands — itta, yutta, aru, minai , kuri: in the mouths of women this 
phraseology is modified, softened, turned into silvery cascades— iUimv- 
shita, iimashita, arimasu, mimasen, kudasai. Apart from this, women to a large 
extent use a vocabulary which is exclusively their own; they use inter- 
jections that a man would use only in special cases; and they express 
themselves in an allusive and elliptical fashion, employing frequent 
interrogatives and making great use of euphonious pleonasms. It is rather 
as if Englishmen used predominantly Anglo-Saxon words while women 
chiefly used words of Latin origin, with their elaborate cadences and 
academic associations. 

We went on to the villa, showed our passes, and entered. In the old 
days ceremonial dress, or at any rate a dark suit, was de rigueur for visits to 
villas or palaces belonging to the Imperial House, but nowadays things 
are simpler. Ernesto remarked that this was an echo of MacArthur f s 



334 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

famous reception of the Emperor in his shirt-sleeves. In a sense this was 
true; shoguns always dictated fashion for a short time after achieving 
power; and for some years Mac Arthur was aoi-mt no shogun (the blue-eyed 
shogun), the direct heir of Iyeyasu. 

I asked Ernesto whether we should see the house or the garden 
first; his reply was to denounce me as an impenitent dualist They were 
one and the same thing, and it was impossible to differentiate between 
them. Had I not yet learnt the lesson of total fusion of house and garden! 

We both laughed. Tama’s curiosity about what we were talking 
about made her eyes nearly pop out of her head. Thus my work as 
interpreter began. Ernesto took advantage of the occasion to tell her 
a lot of things about his ideas and artistic tastes, putting to a hard test my 
knowledge of one of the most difficult languages in the world— difficult, 
not because of its accidence, but because of its syntax and the pheno- 
menal wealth of its vocabulary. 

Tamako led the way towards the house, and we followed, taking 
off our shoes at the entrance, as is the custom. The villa should not be 
thought of as a little Versailles, or Villa d’Este, or even one of the 
Medicean country houses; we are in another world. The simplicity here 
is no mere return to the primitive, but the distilled essence achieved by 
one who has run through the whole gamut of richness, complication, 
magnificence, and has now found his way to the core of things and 
rejected the rest. 

The villa is a single-storey wooden building, raised from the ground 
on piles a good three feet high, and with a roof of tiny wooden shingles, 
arranged with great care to form a rough, slightly curved surface. The 
floors are covered with tatami, the doors are of thin wood and paper . 1 
Fortunately the guide left us to our own devices, for which we were 
grateful; generally parties are taken round like sheep, totally unable to 
breathe the spirit of the place; and this is one of the places in which 
there is, perhaps, very little to see, but a great deal to breathe in. My 
impression is that it is only by staying there for a considerable time, 
perhaps by sleeping there, that you begin to have the feel of the place. 
It is like the high mountains; unless you have slept among them you 
know them only as a tourist. 

1 The villa as a whole 'creates the effect of a piece of furniture, made with great taste and care, 
placed In the middle of a garden'. W. Bum, he. dr., p. 7 s. 




Plan of the Katsura villa, Kyoto 

(i) Imperial gate; (a) inner gate (Photograph nj); (j) ordinary entrance; (4) main building; 
(5) Geppar 5 ('Waves by Moonlight’) pavilion; (e) bench for guests waiting to be admitted to die 
tea ceremony; (7) Sh 6 kin-tei ('Murmur of the Pines') pavilion. (Photograph na shows view from 
the interior); (l) Man|i-tei ('Swastika’) pavilion (the swastika is a Buddhist symbol); (•) Sh&ka-tei 
(•Flower Delight*) pavilion; (10) Enrin-do ('Buried in the Wood') temple; (11) Sh&i-kcn ('Cheerful 
Heart’) pavilion; (») place where small boats are kept 
(A) Point from which Photograph tot was taken 
(B) Point from which photograph on back of dust-cover was taken 

(Drawing fay S. Pannuti baaed &n data given by various Japanese authors) 





Stone lanterns in the garden of the Katsura villa (Kyoto) 
(Drawn by Mikino Yone) 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


337 


Now, as there was no one to hurry us, we could squat on the tatami 
where we pleased; this was most important, because Japanese archi- 
tecture is designed to be seen and appreciated by a man squatting on the 
floor in the position of meditation. From this level, views and the per- 
spectives which otherwise seem small, cold, out of balance, become 
warm and welcoming, and made to the measure of man. As soon as we 
squatted we saw ‘the garden entering the house'; the fusion between 
interior and exterior was perfect. Every tree, every stone, every ripple 
on the pond, was thought of in terms of how it would look from inside 
the house; similarly, the house was designed so that it appeared in 
perspective from wherever it was looked at. You are immediately 
struck by the totally irregular plan of the building; the effect is as if it 
had happened by chance. But then you see that it is an elegant avoidance 
of symmetry, that it respects every slight undulation of the soil, that it 
models itself on nature. Three hundred years later these things seemed 
extraordinarily important to a great western architect for whom a visit 
to Japan was of decisive importance: Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Another matter in which the Japanese preceded by several centuries 
trends which we regard as being the height of modernity is the fact that 
their building is essentially modular. Their special unit is the tatami, 
which at Kyoto and in the Kwansai measures 77* by 37 inches and else- 
where in Japan 71* by 37 inches. A tatami represents the smallest area 
in which a grown man can sit, work, rest, and sleep. The area of 
a room is calculated in multiples of tatami; the smallest occupy the 
space of two or three tatami , the average six, eight, or ten; in big temples 
or palaces the tatami are counted in hundreds. The whole building, is 
conceived in multiples or sub-multiples of this fundamental unit; the 
height and width of the fusuma (sliding doors) are calculated by it, as are 
the height of the room, the breadth of the columns, the width of the 
verandas, and so on. At least four centuries before Le Corbusier worked 
out his ‘modulor’, his minimum human space, these poets of simple 
things at the other end of the earth had preceded him. 

While Ernesto and I sat on the floor, talking or thinking, Tama 
walked up and down, humming a tune. She leant on a pillar and 
looked at the garden, or the teapavilions that could be made out among 
the trees on the bank of the irregular-shaped pond. Then she turned, 
and asked us with a smile: 



338 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

’Nmi-wo kmgaete irasshani no?' (What are you thinking about?) 

'I was thinking how delightful you are!' 1 answered. If I were an 
ancient prince who had retired here, I should insist on your walking 
up and down like that every day !' 

'Well, in that case I should need hormone cream for my face in bad 
weather.’ 

'What is she saying?’ asked Ernesto. 

‘Oh, nothing, she says that she’s quite happy.’ 

While Ernesto talked I looked at Tama sitting on the little veranda 
made for listening to music by moonlight. She was delightful, exquisite, 
fascinating, perfect, but somehow I could not manage to think of her 
as a real person ; Middy, for all her wildness, seemed infinitely more real ; 
a totally unformed human being, but still, a human being. But did Tama 
have a soul? If there had been a Japanese equivalent for 'soul’, if I could 
have made a joke about it, I should have asked her. But tamashii would be 
rather like saying ‘spiritual essence', a much too metaphysical concep- 
tion; that left the word kokoro, heart, which would have been much too 
cruel. It is only with difficulty that a joke survives transplantation to 
a different civilization. 

We resumed our tour of the villa, enjoying every view of the 
garden, examining the now faded paintings to be seen here and there 
in the rooms, nearly all of them in the sober sumi-e style, black on white, 
carried out with light, casual strokes of the brush: a landscape of rocks 
and waterfalls surviving as in the memory of a dream; an old sage riding 
a donkey; all suggestions that led back to Tao, the Way, to a lightly 
borne, anti-pedantic, slightly crazy wisdom; though always absolutely 
engaged. 

Apart from these pictures, which have now almost completely 
faded with the years, there is practically no decoration; unless you 
regard the structure itself as decoration, because of the perfect balance 
of its parts, and the beauty of the bare surfaces, wood, paper, straw, 
bamboo. The only use of metal, so minimal that it might easily escape 
the eye of one who did not know where to look, is for small fittings 
called kugi-kakushi (cover-nails) at the top of the columns, and for 
hSdte, in which you put a finger to open or shut a sliding door; the 
hikite are shaped like baskets decorated with wistaria or chrysanthe- 
mums. In accordance with the usual principle of surrounding things 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 339 

with mu — absence, silence, nothing— the slightest of them acquire *n 
extraordinary significance. 

Ernesto remarked that another extraordinary modem feature was 
the sense of surface. The Japanese, with wood, paper, and dried earth, 
had, unlike the west, discovered materials which aged well. How 
depressing those concrete boxes were, even in maturity, to say nothing 
of age! They were fine on the architect’s drawing-board, and tolerable 
when new. But they peeled, flaked, got stained and dirty, and after a few 
years they were monstrous. 

A prapos of monstrosities, while we were sitting in a corner enjoying 
the view of the pond framed by the veranda where Tamako was squat- 
ting and powdering her nose, a party of foreigners approached, led by 
a guide who was saying his piece at the top of his voice in appalling 
i^iglish. While we waited for the storm to pass a corpulent gentleman 
detached himself from the party and came over towards us. ‘Oh, 
Lanzetti, how delightful to see you !’ he said. We rose, and introductions 
followed. He was Dr. Macchia, the representative of some commercial 
company, in Japan on business. For a few minutes we found his com- 
pany enjoyable, but then we discovered that we had nothing in com- 
mon; moreover, he refused to go away. He remarked how delightful it 
was to meet two friends in this remote place lost in the depths of Japan 
(actually we were only twenty minutes from Kyoto). He had heard such 
a lot about this villa, but what was it, after all, but a wooden hut* What 
did we think? To him it was obvious that these Japanese hadn't got very 
much; after all, they had emerged from the woods only the day before 
yesterday, so to speak. Didn’t Lanzetti think they would be well advised 
to go to Italy for a little instruction? After all, Italy was the mother of 
the arts. When you considered what Italy had given the world, this 
stuff only made you smile. You couldn’t compare it, could you, to the 
Boboli Gardens, or Hadrian’s Villa, or the Villa d’Este, or the Brenta 
villas! These trifles had a certain charm, of course, but in reality they 
were nothing but toys. All you needed was some stones, a lantern, a 
little imagination in digging the pond. . . . 

The storm showed no sign of abating. Very selfishly, on the pretext 
of talking to Tamako in Japanese, 1 left Ernesto to cope with it alone. 
Tamako and I went down irito the garden, past the Geppard (the 
‘Waves by Moonlight’ pavilion), discovering marvels at every step: 



340 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

stones, moss, maples, water, pines of innumerable different species, ages, 
shapes, lanterns which were amusing, sad, severe, pathetic, proud, 
charming, as absurd as a drunken old man; there was a whole popula- 
tion of lanterns. 

I managed to get Tamako to walk in front of me; then, on the 
pretext of taking photographs, I stopped. The girl walked with incredible 
grace; both in movement and repose she seemed instinctively to hold 
herself perfectly, and she also seemed to be in silent and instinctive 
communion with everything about her. Her kimono was in perfect 
harmony with every petal of this supreme flower of a civilization; villa, 
garden, water, sounds, scents, colours, the ancient savour of earth 
and time. If Japanese women only realized how much better they look 
in wafuku (Japanese dress), they would never wear ydjuku (western dress). 
The kimono is made for them, was born on them (Photographs 99, 100), 
but yofaku brings out all their defects; their short, often bow, legs, broad 
waist and tube-shaped body, small breasts and round shoulders. During 
all the years I have spent in the east I have never, I repeat never, had my 
breath taken away at the sight of a Japanese woman dressed in western 
style. When Japanese girls, and still more Japanese women, abandon 
their own style of clothing, they look like housemaids. The kimono 
brings out all that is best in them. True, the breasts disappear, but 
another delightful element, the neck, is brought out— the plasticity of 
its surfaces, and the continual play of its movement and the light upon 
it. Western women have other weapons; their neck is merely a support- 
ing column to carry the head ; in the case of Japanese women the neck has 
the expressiveness, the elegance of movement, the lightness, the intelli- 
gence, all the qualities of a hand with thin, nervous fingers. 

At the 'Murmur of the Pines' pavilion we stopped to wait for the 
others. The pond, the island, the comic little lantern, seen from here 
(Photograph 112) are really the quintessence of Japanese perfection. 
I prayed that Tama would not speak, fearing that if she opened her 
mouth she would spoil everything. Meanwhile Dr. Macchia’s torrent of 
words came floating towards us on the breeze. I hoped that Ernesto had 
not set out on the uphill task of trying to convert him. 

The torrent of words faded; perhaps the two had gone round a 
comer. Tamako, without speaking, approached and took my hand. 
Male vanity is such that for a moment I thought ... I had always liked 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


341 


Tamato. Who would not! When I first met her she had been with one 
friend of mine, and now she was with another. But could I have made 
a mistake? Her hand clutched me tightly, desperately. 

‘Ate, Maraini-san she burst out suddenly, with an expression I had 
never seen on her face before, looking at me with eyes in which there 
were two large, shining tears. ‘Ni, Maraini-san, you, who know Giorgio 
well, is it true?’ 

‘Is what true, Tama-chan? What is the matter with you?’ 

'N£ Maraini-san, they’ve told me! Everybody knows it now!’ 

'Knows what, Tama-chan? I don’t know what you are talking 
about!’ 

That Giorgio’s in love with a gai-jin, a foreigner. . . . It’s no good 
denying it, there’s no more hope. . . . Ni, Maraini-san , will you tell me it 
kui’t true!’ 

She raised her tamcto, the wing-like sleeve of her kimono, and 
quickly wiped away the tears on her cheeks; Ernesto and Dr. Macchia 
were coming, you could hear their voices quite close. A moment later 
Tama looked at me, smiling again, looking incredibly cheerful and 
different. She drew her obi-dame about her with a gesture characteristic 
of Japanese women, and murmured: 

'Let us forget about it, shall we? Shikata ga arimasen, it can’t be helped, 
there’s nothing that can be done about it.’ 


Abstract Garden 

One of the most delightful experiences in Japan is wandering from place 
to place, with no prearranged plan, but taking the hint when an old 
man says: ‘What? Haven’t you seen the hermitage over the hills?' or 
a child claims that the local ayu, a kind of river fish, are particularly 
good, and that his grandmother, who lives in that house over there 
hidden among the bamboo-trees, is particularly good at cooking them. 
Sometimes even a puncture can be a piece of luck, as it was in the moun- 
tains behind Hiroshima, for instance. While we waited for it to be 
repaired, the local schoolmaster, who was also the local priest, took us 
to see some most interesting wooden statues of the Fujiwara period, 
hidden in a little Shinto shrine, which looked like a bam in which 
agricultural implements were kept. 



342 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Yesterday we visited the garden of Ryoan-ji (Photograph 104), which 
is one of the boldest and strangest in Kyoto. It consists of a stretch of 
white sand, carefully raked into broad parallel lines, and fifteen rocks, 
both big and small. The only vegetation consists of some humble 
coloured lichens on the stone, and a border of moss round the bigger 
rocks. It is thus an abstract garden; its interest lies in the harmony of its 
spatial relations and the significance of its tactile values. It makes no 
facile appeal to the senses, and ornament is totally excluded. It is a direct 
journey into the void from which the all is bom, an absurd, chaste 
embrace of the mathematics of the heavenly spheres. 

The author of this Zen poem in minerals and light seems to have 
been S 5 ami, the tea master who also made the Silver Pavilion garden, 
as well as the tiny Daisen-in gardens; he was responsible for the three 
Kyoto masterpieces, in fact. The Ryoan-ji garden was probably made in 
1499, in other words four centuries before our own artists discovered the 
same language by a different route. Thus it is not surprising that the 
Japanese should be so very much at home in modern art. Their tradi- 
tion is our present, perhaps our future. True, the ignorant read childish 
symbolical meanings, pleasing fairy tales, into this garden-ideogram— 
see in it things like a mother-tiger with her cubs in a stream of sand- 
water, or the tops of mountains over a sea of cloud such as might be seen 
from a high peak, or merely little islands in a calm river. Little reflection, 
however, is required to divine its true message; its stark simplicity, its 
asymmetrical equilibrium, stand for the meaning of ultimate things; 
they are not a pictorial representation of them. In Asia the artist’s work 
is nearly always religious, because the life of the mind is not compart- 
mentalized; life is itself religion. Ticking up a blade of grass you make 
of it a lofty, golden Buddha.’ 

There was a continuous flow of visitors to the Ryoan-ji— students, 
honeymoon couples, old women, professors dressed with studied care- 
lessness and wearing flabby hats, mothers with their adorable, chubby- 
cheeked, Japanese children, peasants on silent pilgrimage, ready to bow 
in reverence to every important thing, young men in shirt-sleeves with 
elaborate photographic apparatus, soldiers, an occasional foreigner. 
Thanks to the torn here, there is no appalling loudspeaker as there was 
in the Silver Pavilion; there is, in fact, nothing to explain. The pilgrims 
are rightly left in silence to look, feel, think. 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


34 ) 


We had a few hours to spare, so we drove away towards the slope 
of the Arashi-yama. This neighbourhood js extraordinarily reminiscent 
of the surroundings of Florence, the roads leading towards Scandicci, 
Santa Margherita a Montici, Settignano; there are the same gravelly, 
winding lanes, the same dry walls. Every now and theayou come to the 
entrance to a villa, two or three houses, a temple among the trees, and 
you meet few people, an occasional peasant leading a cow, children 
playing ishikeri, a priest, or a pair of lovers. 

We reached the foot of the wooded mountains. The sun played 
in the foliage, and made the tree-covered summits look like green fire. 
We were wondering whether to go back or not when we saw a sign 
saying 'Gi5-ji* and decided to see what it might be. We followed a path 
that climbed steeply into the forest, and when we stopped we heard the 
wind whistling through the sun-kissed branches of the trees at the top. 
A boy in the distance heard us and came running up. 'Tabako okureyasu 1 
(Give me a cigarette !), he said. Sachiko told him he ought to be ashamed 
of himself at his age, but we ended by making friends with him, and he 
showed us the way. We came to a small straw archway leading to a tiny 
wooden building with a newly thatched roof hidden among the tall 
trees. This was the Gi5-ji. The boy called out ‘ Anju-san ! Anju-san! 1 and an 
aged Buddhist nun appeared, who greeted us with great courtesy and 
led us into her domain. She had none of the unctuousness sometimes 
to be found among her eastern and western sisters, and looked us 
straight in the eye with a regal detachment. She looked like a woman 
who had lived a great deal and then one day decided that she had had 
enough; her face suggested a past life of prosperity rather than of 
renunciation. She told us about the history of the place with cultured 
eloquence. 

It seemed that the temple had been founded in the eleventh century 
by Gid, a courtesan with whom Taira Kiyomori was in love; she retired 
here after the death of her lord and the destruction of the Taira by the 
Minamoto. The anju-san disappeared for a moment to make us tea; she 
brought it to us a few moments later in exquisite little rustic cups on 
a simple lacquered tray. Then, after we had removed our shoes, of 
course, she took us into the little chapeL Everything was so small that 
we might have been in a cupboard rather than in a room. On the altar, 
which occupied the whole of one wall, there were some statues. In the 



344 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

centre there was a small and very fine Dai Nichi Nyorai (metaphysical 
Buddha of light, see page 151), a copy of the famous original in the 
Chuson-ji at Hiraizumi in north Japan, one of the greatest works of the 
Fujiwara or late Heian period (tenth to twelfth centuries). Beside it were 
idealized portraits in the style of the Kamakura period of Gid, her 
mother, and her sister; and finally there was a portrait of Hotoke Gozen, 
Gio’s great rival for the heart of Kiyomori. Gio herself, we were told, 
had wished to have her portrait there to show that she forgave her, for 
had not the lord Buddha bade us love our enemies? 

My friend Hiroshi Bamba vanished into the garden to make some 
drawings, and 1 followed him to take photographs, leaving Sachiko 
Bamba to talk to the anju-san ; the animated buzz of their conversation was 
audible some distance away. When at last we left the wood, which faced 
eastwards, it was dark; the evening sun gilded the trees on the highest 
hilltops opposite. Sachiko told me about her fascinating conversation. 

The anju-san , now aged nearly seventy, was named Chisho-ni, 
Mother Shining Knowledge. In her youth she had been a famous geisha, 
and her name had been Teruha, Shining Leaf. She had been famous, 
very famous indeed, Sachiko remembered having read her name in the 
newspapers as a child, and there had been some scandals about her. 
Then she had become the mistress of a famous personage, and had gone 
round the world with him— London, Paris, Rome, New York. No, she 
had not been willing to mention his name. She had said that she could 
speak English, but was no longer willing to. 

Instinctively I looked back. Shining Knowledge was standing by the 
gateway of her tiny realm, and she bade farewell to us, not as a Japanese 
nun would have done, by bowing, but by shyly waving her hand like 
a western tourist. 

Night life of Kyoto 

At Kyoto there are about ten districts entirely devoted to night life. 
Each of these has its own character, its own style, its own recognized 
grade; but it is a complicated, mysterious world, difficult for a foreigner 
to understand. At the top are the two geisha quarters of Ponto-cho and 
Gion Kobu, as well as the Shimabara quarter, with its oiran , al at the lower 

1 Courtesan, ancient style. 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


MS 


levels there is no more talk of geishas, but of jm 9 prostitutes. There are 
innumerable intermediary grades. As so often happens, a term originally 
applied to an aristocracy is vulgarized and depreciates, and the term 
geisha is used by an ever wider circle of women who have very little 
indeed in common with the 'cultivated persons of former days ; 1 * this 
has been particularly the case since the American military invasion; 
for the American troops geisha came to mean simply 'Japanese girl', 
brutally eliminating all the ancient distinctions and differences. 

But what exactly is a geisha, arid why does she play such an im- 
portant part in Japanese life? Many strange ideas are current on the 
subject. With Mount Fuji, paper lanterns, hara-kiri, and the Child of the 
Sun seated on the imperial throne, it is one of the few ideas about japan 
that everybody has in mind. But how many misunderstandings there 
are about her, and how many slanders.* 

In the first place it should be noted that the geisha is not an exclu- 
sively Japanese phenomenon. Nearly everywhere in Asia a man admits 
to his home only his relatives and his closest friends, and his wife does 
not take part in ordinary social gatherings. But, as men are generally 
not satisfied with the company exclusively of their own sex, there has 
existed from the earliest times a class of women, often recruited from 
among the wives and daughters of the vanquished in war , 3 whose 
principal function is to entertain, particularly at dinners and banquets, 
by their beauty, charm, wit, and skill in dancing, music, and song. In 
India of the classical period there were the naikin, ganika , etc., in China the 
chi, in Tibet the gyen-sang-ma, in Korea the kisaeng. The westerner, born and 
bred in a society in which by immemorial tradition (respect for th t 
human personality, the influence of Christianity) it is not just the right, 
but also the duty, of wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters to assist in 
the entertainment of relatives, friends, and guests, jumps to the con- 
clusion that these women must be prostitutes. Now, in the lower levels 
of the profession this is certainly true, for payment for carnal pleasure, 

1 Geisha is written with two ideograms meaning ‘culture’, gei, and 'person*, sha. 

• 'Most foreigners and many )apanese think of the geisha as a pretty but pathetic young girl 

who has been sold into a life of and longs for some young knight-errant to rescue her from 

It with an honest marriage/— F. D. Peimns and F. Haas, Geisha eJTcmxho, Tokyo, i»4, p. is. 

* This was the fate, for instance, of the*women of the house of Tatra after the victory of the 
Minamoto in the battle of Dannoura (uss). This Is a classical theme In Japanese art, literature, and 
the theatre. 



346 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

whether more or less concealed, inevitably creeps into such a system, 
as it does at the fringes of the entertainment industry in the west, but at 
the upper levels, among the Japanese geishas of real class, for instance, 
the two things are separate and distinct. It is interesting to note that in 
the American matriarchy, which in so many respects is the antipodes 
of the Asian world, an institution by no means dissimilar to that of the 
geisha is arising; that of the hostess in all her innumerable and varied 
forms, who ‘sells* her charm, her smile, her company, without in any 
way committing her private life. 

Giorgio left suddenly yesterday, and Jane, Somi, and I dined to- 
gether at a charming little restaurant along the river, typical of the 
Japanese taste for nature and country things; it is furnished like 
the inside of a forest hut, and the most delicious roast quail is 
served. The menu, hand-written on carefully chosen rough paper, 
looked like poetry written by a hermit, and when the bill was 
presented it looked liked a billet doux from a court lady of the Heian 
period. 

After dinner Somi left us. Jane insisted that she wanted to see Kyoto 
night life. I tried to explain the difficulties. I told her that there was 
nothing to prevent her from going wherever she liked, but did she want 
to embarrass everybody, freeze the whole atmosphere by her presence? 
I felt sure that was not what she wanted. I explained that the great 
difference was that in the west night life was public; you put down your 
money, and in you went; money was the only criterion. But here night 
life was semi-private. The places where entry was open to all were hardly 
worth going to; they were either utterly revolting, or were parodies of 
the Place Pigalle, or Basin Street, or Soho. But here the primary requisite 
was a good introduction, and you had to keep on going to the same 
place and keep on seeing the same people before you were properly 
accepted; and at bottom you always remained a foreigner, with clumsy 
great hands and feet, who moved like a bear straight from the primeval 
forest, and was in any case incapable of taking a proper part in conversa- 
tion made up of subtle, piquant, and witty allusions. 

Jane was so crestfallen at this speech that I agreed to take her for 
a short stroll through Gion and Ponto-cho. It did not take us long to 
get to Ponto-cho, which was not far from the restaurant. As soon as we 
left the main road with its roar of traffic and went down the short slope 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES J47 

towards the river we found ourselves two centuries back in feudal Japan 
(Photograph 138). 

It is a narrow street, which first curves and then runs straight, 
flanked by doll’s houses built of dark brown wood and paper, looking 
like toy houses for toy love affairs. 

c But sometimes there’s a ping! and a toy heart is broken , 1 I re- 
marked. ’And next day you read in the paper that a geisha has com- 
mitted suicide.’ 

’How romantic !’ Jane exclaimed. ’It’s wonderful to be here. I never 
thought there was anything so romantic in the whole world. Oh, it’s 
cruel that Giorgio had to leave us!' 

Outside the local theatre, the Kaburenjo, red lanterns were hanging 
in honour of the dances that take place there in spring and autumn. 
1 -iere had been a shower some time previously, and the colours were 
reflected in the puddles; the whole effect was like fairyland. Through 
the shdji, the paper windows, there came the sound of a kouta being sung, 
or gusts of high-pitched laughter, or the notes of a samisen. Sometimes 
we caught sight of a fleeting shadow, or heard the characteristic sound 
of a sliding door being opened and saw one, two, or several masko (pupil 
geishas) emerging in their magnificent costume, or a geisha, or a samisen 
player with his instrument and its cat’s-skin-covered box. The girls 
laughed, or talked their delicious dialect, all accents and little exclama- 
tions, saying dkini instead of arigato for ’thank you’, and kitsu-kitsu l tannin 
dossi instead of dmo sumimasen for ’excuse me, please’. They sound like 
children; they say bebe for ‘kimono’ and bubu for ‘tea’. The sound their 
wooden sandals make as they walk away is enchanting; kara-koro, km ~ 
koro t the Japanese call it. 

There are some Japanese sounds that you never forget. You may 
wake in the middle of a moonlit night, for instance, and hear through 
the frail wood-and-paper walls that separate you from the street the 
sound of a passer-by wearing geta ; you hear them from a distance, with 
their musical kara-koro, kara-koro , kara-koro, coming nearer, passing under 
the window, and then fading away. You can tell at once whether it is 
a man or a woman, and often you can tell a lot of other things as well. 
You can distinguish, for instance, the glide of the contented female cat, 
the proud footsteps of the beauty, the listless footsteps of the disap- 
pointed. Then there is the sound of the distant pipe of the sobaya, the 



348 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

seller of soba for hungry noctambulists, or of the man on his way home 
who takes his flute from the folds of his kimono and plays. 

Horn noyowo A spring night; 

Shakuhachi finte Sounding the flute, 

Tdri kerf 1 A man passed by . 1 

Meanwhile there was nothing about geishas that Jane did not want 
to know. ‘How does one become a geisha V she asked. 'What do they do? 
What are all these little houses?’ 

I explained that most of them were o-chaya (honourable tea-houses), 
which was the name given here to what elsewhere in Japan were known 
as machiai (waiting and meeting) places. You could not gain entry to 
them without an introduction, and the better the place, the more 
important must your sponsor be. Once inside, however, the place 
became your second home; you were looked after like a nabob. The 
hospitality, though fundamentally venal, never appeared to be. Natur- 
ally it was very expensive and, if you showed any signs of stinginess, the 
o-kami-san , the mistress of the establishment, showed you her claws, with 
the greatest politeness, of course, but in a fashion which permitted of no 
reply. 

Jane said she wanted to hear about geishas, not about their 
clients. 

I told her not to be impatient, and to let me tell her things in their 
proper order. Many people thought that clients visited geishas in their 
houses, but nothing could be more mistaken. The centre of the whole 
system was the honourable tea-house, the mistresses of which sent for 
the geishas, who lived elsewhere. At Kyoto, for instance, they lived in 
houses called yakata, sometimes together, sometimes alone. Before going 
to the honourable tea-house they called at the kemban, the local office 
where all services were registered; only then did they appear before 
their client, who would normally have invited some friends for an 
agreeable evening. Our normally accepted ideas on the subject required 
complete revision; in the vast majority of cases geishas were sent for 
purely and simply to entertain, to dance, play, and sing. Moreover, 
their services were exceedingly expensive and, though a geisha party 


‘Shfld ( mt aoi ). 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


349 


enhanced the host's prestige, the cost was ruinous. An elaborate aim 
could easily run away with fifty, a hundred, two hundred dollars; many 
were given on expense accounts. 

'You’ve gone back to the clients again, and I want to hear about the 
geishas. How do you become a geisha ?' 

‘Why? Do you want to leave the service of your honourable govern- 
ment and become the first oversea geisha?' 

‘ ‘Well, that might be an idea.' 

I told her there were various ways of becoming a geisha. First of all, 
there was the system by which a girl was sold by her parents for a sum 
of money which she had to recoup by her work. This system was, of 
course, rightly inveighed against by all the reformers; legislation existed 
against it, but it still went on, in ways which in practice it was impos- 
sibi- to check, ft prevailed chiefly in the lowest branches of this 
ancient profession. At Ponto-cho, it appeared, most of the girls were 
geishas because their mothers had been geishas; it was hereditary. It was 
a closed world, with its own professional pride. When girls were from 
five to seven years old they first appeared in the spring and autumn 
dances at the Kaburenjo theatre, then they went to an ordinary school, 
then to a special school, a kind of academy attached to the theatre, 
where for two years they were taught singing, dancing, music, poetry, 
the tea ceremony, elocution, recitation, even sociology (who on earth 
taught them that?), to say nothing of arithmetic and, nowadays, 
elementary English. 

‘So there's at any rate one thing I should be good at,’ Jane re- 
marked. 

‘Wait a bit !' I answered. ‘I haven't yet told you the best part. Do you 
realize that you would have to blacken your teeth? After the shikamu 
(little pupil) stage there comes the maiko (pupil geisha) stage, which 
generally lasts for twenty-three months. Then comes the dibut as a fully 
fledged geisha. In the old days this was a highly important ceremony; 
the girl still has to lacquer her teeth black a month in advance. It is 
a curious custom, which was all the rage among the nobles of the 
Fu jiwara period in the tenth century and gradually filtered down among 
the people. Nowadays it is still possible in the remote countryside to 
come across an old peasant woman with this sociological fossil in her 
mouth. I remember seeing one in the Shirakawa valley, north of Gifu, 



330 MEETING WITH |AFAN 

where many archaic customs still survive. Anyway, geishas still revive 
this ancient custom for a month.' 

'What do they look like?' 

‘Wonderful ! The face becomes a kind of living mask; the mouth is 
like a window from which you look into nothing. It makes you feel as 
if you yourself were part of an inanimate world that had suddenly come 
alive and could speak. I remember an evening many years ago at the 
Ichi-rild, in Gion, on the other side of the river. It's probably the most 
exclusive restaurant in the world; they let me in only because I was with 
some diplomatists. It’s entirely unchanged since feudal times, and every 
breath you draw in it costs a fortune. Anyway, at one point a dibutante 
geisha came in silently, and sat with us. She was extraordinarily beautiful. 
Her face was covered with the thick wax make-up which in daylight 
looks like plaster and is revolting, but by artificial light, particularly if 
it is subdued to resemble that of the flickering lamps of the old days, 
looks like porcelain. She kept her mouth half-open; her teeth were 
black, lacquered like dark metal. She smiled, and said something in the 
delightful Kyoto dialect, bending her head, with its mass of black, shiny, 
lacquered hair. Then she sang. Heavens, I could have gone crazy about 
her!’ 

'And did you? Confess it, even if it isn’t true !’ 

‘What do you expect, on the pay of a poor university lecturer?’ 

'Was it hard to forget her?’ 

'Yes, I admit it.' 

‘But supposing she had liked you?’ 

'Jane, how can you be so absurdly romantic? Don’t you know that 
high-class geishas are surrounded by invisible walls that are stronger 
than steel? They’re like racehorses, worth thousands. To become the 
patron of one of them captains of industry, cabinet ministers, great 
aristocrats, the cream of Japanese society, go through the most extra- 
ordinary hoops.' 

‘What do you mean by patron?’ 

'A geisha’s patron finances her, enables her to outdo her rivals in 
extravagances, clothes, luxuries. Her kimonos, jewels, hairdresser's tails, 
and beauty treatment are all wildly expensive. That the arrangement is 
profitable to her is obvious. That it should be profitable to him too— 
over and above the pleasure of female society, which he could certainly 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES 


M 

find with much less trouble and expense— is one of the peculiarities of 
Japanese society. There is not the slightest doubt that when the name of 
a distinguished man is associated with that of a famous geisha it helps 
him enormously; it establishes him as a man of the world, a man who 
has arrived. The geisha’s relations with him may be merely a matter of 
convenience, or may be based on love. Incidentally, the most famous 
geishas are by no means the youngest and most attractive; instead it is 
much more a matter of somehow succeeding in attracting prestige and 
glamour. The geisha’s supreme aim, of course, is marriage, and such 
marriages are pretty frequent and cause no more surprise than when 
a peer marries a film-star. If marriage eludes her, she will endeavour to 
become a kept mistress, a member of the invisible harem which so many 
Japanese men acquire as soon as they can afford it.’ 

‘And then a young student turns up, doesn't he! That’s the part 
Hike!’ 

‘Yes, the eternal triangle. Cabinet minister, beautiful geisha, brilliant, 
penniless, young student. Secret meetings, weeping willows, moonlight, 
tears, suspicion, detection, rage, revolvers, confrontation, money 
handed back, elopement— all the ingredients of a popular novel !’ 

Farewell to Kyoto 

All my friends left Kyoto, and the time came for me to go too. The last 
of them to leave was Uriu-san, who did so with a characteristic gesture. 
His relatives had decided for some reason to close their Kyoto house, 
and he spent the last few nights at my hotel ; I explained to the landlady 
that he was an old friend, and told her to look after him, and let him 
have whatever he wanted. When I was brought the bill, it included some 
mysterious ideograms for one very expensive item, which I could not 
understand at all. When I demanded an explanation the landlady looked 
at me with an absolutely neutral expression on her face. ‘It’s for your 
friend’s geisha,’ she said. ‘Didn’t you tell me to let him have whatever 
he wanted!’ 

The old man had also left me a note. ‘Maraini-sama, au revoir,' it 
said. ‘Thank you for this autumn which ended in such a marvellous 
spring. Her name is Junko, sho’s delightful. Talk about me some- 
times!...’ 



352 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

But it was not spring, it was winter. A telegram had come for me 
that morning, and I had to leave for Tokyo on urgent business . 1 

1 The reader will, 1 hope, forgive my pedantry, but I cannot conclude this lengthy account of 
Kyoto without mentioning at any rate some of the things to which we have not had occasion to 
refer in the course of our wanderings in and about the Gty of Crystal Streams. Here they are: 

(x) The Imperial Palace (Gosho, 'Honourable Place'), a broad expanse not lor from the centre 
of the city, where pavilions and gardens form a serene and exquisite pattern of earth and water, 
architecture and foliage. The names of the various buildings ore still those of the Heian period 
(ninth to eleventh centuries). There is a Shishin-den ('Purple Imperial Pavilion') and a Seiry 6 -den 
('Pavilion of Sweet Coolness*), both of which are open for ceremonies from time to time, but they 
have repeatedly been destroyed in the course of centuries by fires, the last of which, in 1854, was 
exceedingly violent. 

Nevertheless the various buildings have been reconstructed in a style of noble simplicity 
worthy of the best Japanese traditions, and they are among the most notable things in Kyoto. The 
only decoration In the immaculate expanse of gravel in some courtyards consists of two small 
trees, bamboo, cherry, or orange, which, as W. B laser rightly observes, acquire the spatial and 
suggestive values of sculpture; the roofs have the slight curves peculiar to Japanese architecture at 
the happy moments when it has integrated continental experience with its own pure native 
traditions; the fittings are of bare wood, unpainted, but polished until it shines like a mirror. The 
views on which the Emperor's eyes must have rested, both in his hours of repose and when he was 
attending to affairs of state, consisted of a dork rectangular architectonic background (beams) and 
light surfaces (walls); in other words, an abstract, asymmetrical harmony of extraordinary serenity 
and purity, in striking contrast to the throne-rooms and audience chambers in other eastern 
countries, or, for that matter, in the west. 

(2) Palace of the Shogun (Nljo-jo). In regard to preservation this has been much more fortu- 
nate than the Imperial Palace. Here, too, pavilions, trees, space, gardens, water, rough stone from 
the mountains, and fragile paper doors form a magnificent organic whole. The taste displayed is 
still exquisite but. In comparison with the marvellous simplicity of the Imperial Palace, could be 
called sumptuous. Even the modular unit of construction is bigger than usual; the whole has 
a grandiose solemnity which is rare in Japan. The decorated gateways, the walls, the comer towers, 
ore a reminder that the building was a fortress (jo) as well as a palace. Inside there are fine murals 
In the style of the Great Decorators by Kano TanyQ (1602-1674), Kano Naonobu (1607-1630), and others 
of their school. Some of the panels seem to have been brought here from the Fushlmi palace, built 
by Hldeyoshi. A thing to note is the particular care in the carvings and in the painting of the 
dividing panels between the rooms, and in the decoration of the ceilings. We are at the beginning 
of the Tokugawa period (seventeenth century), but the bold and generous spirit of the Momoyama 
period still survives here. 

(3) Shugaku-in (' Villa of the Doctrine'), at the foot of Mount Hiel. Architecture, gardens, and 
paintings; the ensemble lacks the exquisite completeness of the Katsura villa, but is more varied 
and spacious. Beginning of the seventeenth century. 

(4) Klyomlzu-dera('Temple of the Pure Fountains'), half-way up a spur of the Eastern Mount 
(Higashi-yama); it is one of the rare temples built at an altitude and having a view. Its terrace, 
suspended over a shady, densely wooded valley, filled with the sound of rushing waters, is famous 
throughout Japan. It was founded in 803 B.C., but suffered the usual fires, and the present buildings 
date back to the first half of the seventeenth century. It is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kwannon 
('Benevolent Enlightened One'), whose eleven-headed image is very ancient, of mediocre artistic 
value, and greatly venerated. This temple (like that of Hose, sot page 167) is one of the group of 
thirty-three dedicated to Kwannon and belongs to the Shingon sect); it Is a famous and venerated 
sanctuary. It is an interesting place to visit because of the opportunity of observing the popular 



KYOTO, GOLDEN SKIES J5J 

manifestations of a great faith: pilgrims at prayer, priests saying Imyf for the dead, sacred talismans 
and statuettes being sold, and meditation being practised in the depth of winter by motionless, 
half-naked devotees in the spray of the Otowa waterfall. 

(s) Sanjusangen-do, In the city, near the Municipal Museum. The temple dates back to nsi, 
but Is not particularly beautiful or interesting. However, its long, dark nave contains more than 
a thousand similar, erect statues, all shining with gold, of the Bodhlsattva Kwannon. The central 
statue, and some of Its neighbours, are said to be by Tankei (thirteenth century), one of the greatest 
Japanese sculptors. The total effect Is tremendous, perhaps bordering on the terrifying, unreal; 
the Idea of the creators of this hieratic forest of golden heads, arms, eyes, was a pious, literal, 
ritual glorification of Kwannon’s Infinite benevolence; but the effect on the twentieth-century 
mind Is as disturbing as that of an infinite number of light-years in infinite space, or the eyes of an 
insect seen through a microscope. In the long corridors behind the thousand bodhisattvas are 
powerful wooden sculptures of the Kamakura period, including Fu-Jin and Rai-Jin, the gods of 
wind and thunder (see Photograph 23 ). 

(6) The Hozu-gawa rapids. The Japanese archipelago is extraordinary rich in water, and 
hence in vegetation. Sometimes three of nature's most impressive features, river, rock, and forest, 
combine at a single spot with tremendous effect. Famous are the Tenryu river (Photograph at): the 
Kuro-be, in the Japanese Alps, which Is accesrible only after a stiff rock-climb; the Doro-hacch6, 
1, .he KU peninsula, along which you travel silently in boats on motionless, emerald-coloured 
water between dazzling walls of weather-beaten rock, among which vegetation grows; the walls 
are crowned with twisted pine-trees. The Hozu river, with Its marvellously dear waters, winds its 
way regally through a deep valley near Kyoto. In the fine seaaon you can go down It in long, flat- 
bottomed. skilfully navigated boats. 





f Signature of the 
Tokugawa 


Climatic Contrasts 

W inter, had now descended on Japan; I looked out of the train 
window at the dry, brown, resting rice-fields which spread out 
around us in the plains. Here and there women in mompe (blue linen 
trousers) were working in the fields, or a man was leading a beast along 
a path, perhaps on his way to one of the country markets that are fre- 
quent towards the end of the year. In the distance the first snow-covered 
peaks were to be seen— Mount Ibuki, for instance, between Biwa lake 
and ftagoya— and I was reminded of ski excursions of long ago. Winter 
comes later than with us, but is more severe and lasts longer. 

The monsoon system, which causes the winds to blow from the 
south in summer and from the north in winter, makes the Japanese 
climate almost tropical in the former and sub-arctic in the latter. The 
map on the next page shows a curious fret; the greater part of Japan 
lies farther south than Italy, but it enjoys no winter mildness corres- 
ponding to that of the Mediterranean. Kyoto is nearer the equator 
than Tunis, but its winter climate is similar to that of Florence. The 
latitude of Tuscany is that of Hokkaido, where the winter is colder 
than in Finland. 

After completing my business in Tokyo, I left for a quick visit to 
Nikko, a three-hour train journey. Nikko is one of the most famous 
places in Japan and, though my enthusiasm for it is tepid, I must say 
something about it. 


US 



Isotherms for the month of January in Italy and Japan The cold winter climate of 
north Japan is due to the proximity of Siberia 






Tokugawa Wedding Cake 

The name of Nikko stands for a tremendous symphony of rocks, water- 
falls, mountains, lakes, flower-covered marshes, shady gorges, im- 
pressive volcanoes which provide the background for many works of 
man. Some of these, if they were built to achieve the most clamorous 
notoriety, have certainly attained that aim. From the artistic point of 
view, however, they miss the mark. I refer to the mausoleums built for 
themselves by the Tokugawa shoguns, in particular lyeyasu (1542-1616), 
the founder of the line. 

The spot was chosen with a sagacious eye; there are few sites in 
Japan where water, rock, and forest combine to provide such an extra- 
ordinary assembly of natural show-pieces. But times were not what 
'Sey were. The Japanese of earlier centuries — the Nara and Heian, and 
perhaps also the Kamakura and Muromachi centuries — would certainly 
have understood these valleys, peaks, and forests, and expressed the awe 
aroused in them in architecture worthy of its surroundings. But by the 
time the seventeenth century was well under way (most of the buildings 
here were completed between 1654 and 16)6) minds had grown soft, 
servile, complicated; it was a time of repression and fear, for the shadow 
of the Tokugawa lay heavily over everything; outward display was 
combined with an inner meanness of spirit, and the tyrants made the 
old mistake of confusing pomp, luxury, magnificence, with art. 

In the train I made the acquaintance of two young women who 
were also on the way to see the celebrated sights of Nikko; they came 
from Kyoto, and we immediately agreed in pooh-poohing the fame of 
these gigantic hearses glittering with gold which were scattered about 
the mountains. We were like Florentines visiting St. Peter's and finding 
everything crude and inflated. But there comes a point when such 
people, if they are intelligent, realize that that attitude can become 
a pose and, faced with Bernini’s colonnades in St. Peter’s Square, give 
way to astonishment and enthusiasm. At Nikko we, too, were sometimes 
forced to capitulate. 

The great avenue, flanked by huge cypresses, that leads to the 
TSshogu shrine is truly solemn and impressive, for instance. It ends 
with some steps called the Sennin-ishidan (’of the thousand people’), 
because in Tokugawa times ordinary people had to stop at this point; 

J57 



3J8 MEETING WITH JATAN 

only samurai and daimyo were allowed to pass beyond We continued 
along a broad platform between pagodas, gateways, walls covered with 
moss and fern, stables for the sacred horses, storehouses and armouries, 
stone and bronze lanterns, chapels, bell towers, reliquaries, all lacquered 
and decorated with coloured reliefs representing plants and animals, 
among them the famous three monkeys with covered ears, eyes, and 
mouth ('I hear no evil, I see no evil, I speak no evil'). The general 
atmosphere is one of heaviness, but the huge forest trees dominate the 
place so majestically as to redeem the less happy details of the work of 
man (Photograph 86). 

At the Yomei gateway, however— it is also known as Higurashi- 
mon, ‘evening gate’, implying that the visitor would wish to remain 
until sunset to enjoy its infinite beauties — nature is unable to swallow 
up the horror. True, you are put on your guard in advance by various 
structures of dubious taste — the small Covered Well, for instance — and 
are consequently prepared for the worst. Nevertheless you are taken 
aback; you ask yourself whether it is a joke, or a nightmare, or a huge 
wedding cake, a masterpiece of sugar-icing made for some extravagant 
prince with a perverse, rococo taste, who wished to alarm and entertain 
his guests. But no, it is real architecture, carried out in earnest by people 
whose ideal was Technicolor or Vistavision. The eye sets out on its 
painful journey up the white columns, the gilded columns, the lac- 
quered columns; it mounts to heavy, complicated roofs and decora- 
tions, loses its way among giraffes, dragons, clouds, lions, Chinese 
children, peonies, kings and princes, sages and immortals, birds, ser- 
pents, flowers, tigers, pines, bamboos, medlars, peacocks, pheasants, all 
carved with cold and diabolical skill, coloured with visionary fury, 
polished and plastered for the everlasting delight of nouveaux riches. 
A moment comes when you can stand it no longer and turn away. 

A bespectacled little professor who somehow managed to attach 
himself to us was, however, full of enthusiasm for it all, and we re- 
sponded with vague, non-committal smiles. As masterpieces of Toku- 
gawa propaganda it must be admitted that the Nikko mausoleums have 
done their work. Only the most cultured Japanese, those who live in 
contact with the great traditions of Kyoto, Nara, Kamakura, regard these 
works as flagrant exhibitions of bad taste and abysmal vulgarity; for the 
majority they represent the supreme example of terrestrial beauty. 



SIGNATURE OF THB TOKUGAVA » 

A popular saying is ‘Nikko wo mm udu wa, lukkS to is ao' (i f you have not 
seen Nikko, do not speak of splendour)— rather like 'See Naples and 
die*. 

Unfortunately, the organizers of the Japanese tourist industry, 
those who have tried to present their country and its history to the 
west, said to themselves that this was the sort of thing which foreigners 
could understand and appreciate. Considering the things which the 
great majority of westerners in the east pick out and pay expensive 
prices for, no excessive blame should be attached to the Japanese; it was 
only too natural that they should play what they were bound to con- 
sider a safe card. Twenty-three pages of the Official Guide to Japan, for 
instance, are devoted to Nikko and only nineteen to Nara, which is as 
absurd as it would be to devote the same proportions to the Victor 
Immanuel monument in Rome and to Siena. The same guide, though 
its criticisms are sometimes severe, goes into ecstasies over Nikko. ‘The 
mausoleums of Nikko show us the finest works produced by the hand 
of man . . .’ it says, and ‘Nikko is rightly considered by foreigners by far 
the most interesting thing in the whole of Japan’, etc., etc. (pages 406-7). 

The fact that Nikko was built only a few years after the Katsura 
villa gives an idea of the heights and depths between which Japanese art 
has been capable of moving during the centuries. There is the same 
distance between the Kyoto villa and the Nikko mausoleums as there is 
between Brunelleschi and Antoni Gaudi. However, that does a grave 
injustice to Gaudi; for the Spanish architect is life, striving for some- 
thing, and therefore forgivable if it goes astray. But Nikko is old age, 
weariness, feebleness, bad aesthetics, trying to redeem itself with money, 
gold, size. Nikko, in other words, stinks of death. 

In this book I have expressed a great deal of enthusiasm about that 
pole of Japanese art and taste the ideals of which are simplicity, purity, 
nature, of which there are so manv superb examples at be, Nara, Kyoto, 
and elsewhere. But it should not be forgotten that there is an opposite 
pole, that be, Nara, Kyoto, represent only one aspect of Japan; there is 
another, which is attracted by the opposite polar force — wealth and 
display, silver and gold. Nikko is the embodiment of this second pole. 
Detestable though it is, it is necessary to bear it in mind, because it has 
occupied an important place in the total picture of Japanese civilization 
from the seventeenth century to the present day. 



The Mem Centuries 


It would, however, be a mistake to condemn the Tokugawa centuries 
out of hand. In spite of the oppressive dictatorship, there were many 
things that flourished. The country did not easily surrender itself into 
its hands, and never did so completely. It was a period of striking con- 
trasts, and without some knowledge of the Tokugawa period neither 
the best nor the worst aspects of modern Japan can be properly under- 
stood. 

We left the country reunited into a single state by Tokugawa 
Iyeyasu in the seventeenth century. As soon as he had bent Japan to his 
will, his supreme aim was the maintenance of absolute power for him- 
self and his descendants; and the institutions that he devised were so 
well adapted to their purpose that they survived for two centuries and 
a half. Japanese historians describe him as humane, magnanimous, just, 
and affable, but a closer examination of his actions and policies leads to 
the conclusion that this is an idealized portrait, the result of his extra- 
ordinary skill in the manipulation of men. His success was outstanding 
— Machiavelli would have acknowledged him as the supreme Prince— 
but there is little about him to attract sympathy. If on the one hand he 
was frugal, patient, perfectionist, on the other he was false, mean, 
unscrupulous, and, when necessary, cruel. His pitiless extermination of 
the family of Hideyoshi, his one-time great friend and ally, with whom 
he was doubly bound by ties of marriage, is celebrated in Japanese 
history. In short, the bahufi (camp government) embodied, not only his 
will, but the colour and flavour of his personality. 

The Tokugawa centuries, looked at in broad outline, fall into three 
phases. The first, which may be called that of crystallization (about 
1600-1680), was followed by a short period of equilibrium, which in turn 
gave way to a long period of decline and disintegration, culminating in 
the handing back of the supreme power to the Emperor (about 1710 to 
1868). 

The process of crystallization, which continued under Hidetada 
(1616-1622), Iyemitsu (1622-1651), and Iyetsuna (1651-1680) and brought to 
fruition all the political, economic, and social potentialities that the 
system possessed, was particularly vigorous at the outset, under Iyeyasu. 
After the victory of Sekigahara (1600), when he crushed a powerful 

360 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAWA |6l 

alliance of hostile lords, he clearly and brutally settled his position with 
respect to the Emperor and the court. The Emperor’s factions were 
limited to ceremonial; the only real act of government left in the hands 
of the descendant of the gods was that of confirming each of lyeyasu *s 
descendants in office on his predecessor's death. In future shoguns were 
to reside at Yedo, far from the intrigues of Kyoto. The imperial family 
and the court nobles were granted modest allowances but, apart from 
certain villas and small estates, were forbidden to possess land, lyeyasu 
succeeded in confining in a golden cage those who represented a 
potential threat to him because of their age-long moral ascendancy 
over the people. 

Another direction from which lyeyasu and his descendants — and 
with good reason — scented potential danger was that of the great feudal 
lo is; tying the Fmperor’s hands would have served little purpose had 
the political and economic power of the daimyo not been held firmly in 
check. lyeyasu started by dividing them into two broad categories: 
fudai and tozama . Th efudai daimyo (‘hereditary lords’) were those who had 
declared their loyalty to the Tokugawa before the battle of Sekigahara; 
the tozama daimyo (‘outside lords') were the rest. In the general redistri- 
bution that took place at the beginning of the seventeenth century all 
the best land was given to the fudai daimyo; the tozama were granted, or 
permitted to retain, the rest. The consequence was that sixty-four per 
cent of the national production of rice, the economic foundation of the 
country, was in the hands of theTokugawa and their followers. However, 
a number of tozama daimyo (the Shimazu of Satsuma, the Dat6 in the 
north, the Maeda at Kanazawa, the Tosa in the island of Shikoku) were 
very powerful, had been established in their territories for a long time, 
and considered the Tokugawa as usurpers, having no better title to 
power than force; and in the second half of the nineteenth century it 
was these or their followers who worked with the greatest obstinacy and 
the greatest success to bring about the downfall of the whole system. 
Thus the fears of the bakufii were well founded. 

lyeyasu used a variety of methods to clip the wings of the daimyo 
who were hostile to him. I have already mentioned 1 the sankin-tatai 
(‘alternate attendance') system by which a daimyo had either to be at 
Yedo himself or leave his family there as a guarantee of good behaviour. 

1 P. 114. 



362 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

True, in 1603 he had made them all sign an oath ofloyalty to the regime, 
but it was as well to be on the safe side. Moreover, all their activities were 
regulated by a flood of decrees. They were allowed to build castles, for 
instance, but no alterations were permitted once they were built, and all 
repairs had to be authorized; marriages, or important journeys, had to 
be authorized by the bakuju; agreements, troop movements, and even 
trade between them, were prohibited. True, they were exempt from 
taxation, but the bakuju had ways and means of exacting gifts and services 
from them that effectively kept their coffers empty; the Nikko mauso- 
leums, for instance, kept the most eminent daimyo out of mischief for 
many years. Finally, they were forbidden access to the Emperor. 

The Tokugawa system was in fact a provisional military government 
system extended indefinitely into times of peace. The term bakuju shows 
that no attempt was made to conceal the fact, and the names given to 
the principal offices of state almost ostentatiously smacked of the back- 
woods. The state council, for instance, consisted of four or five toshiyori 
('old men, seniors'), presided over by the o-doshiyori ('the great old man’). 
There was a repetition of what had happened in the times of the Mina- 
moto; the principles that had served to regulate the affairs of a small 
feudal estate, the principles applied by the house of Tokugawa in their 
original seat of Mikawa, became the law and constitution of Japan. The 
position was the reverse of that which followed the Taikwa reforms of 
645 or the Meiji reforms of 1868, when political theories, systems, usages 
and customs of a foreign civilization — the Chinese in the first case and 
the European-American in the second — were taken over wholesale. 
Legislation— which was often kept secret, with the result that people 
kept a respectful distance between themselves and all danger areas— 
accumulated in an empirical, casual, and often contradictory manner, 
and its general trend was minatory and repressive. The government, in 
accordance with an ancient and still not completely forgotten oriental 
tendency, always preferred an ethical precept to a definite law; and these 
were displayed on appropriate notice-boards (fu&a) at every cross-roads. 

An inevitable consequence of such a system was the legal sanction 
given to a number of monstrous class privileges; samurai, for instance, 
enjoyed the right of kirisute gomat ('killing and going away'), of which they 
sometimes took advantage at the expense of wretched peasants or artisans 
who failed to bow to them with sufficient respect. Another inevitable 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAWA 


363 

consequence was the proliferation of the notorious metsutt, who were 
originally ‘censors’, but quickly developed into spies. By means of them 
the government was kept secretly informed of what both dmmyo and 
people were thinking, doing, and saying, and this with an efficiency 
which has not been exceeded elsewhere even in our own day. 

The people were no more than a uniform, passive mass, the least 
dangerous of the forces exploited by the bakufii for its own advantage: 
but the Tokugawa applied to them too their mania for organizing 
everything, casting everything into an immutable, easily governable, 
mould. I have already mentioned (p. 72) the four basic classes in 
which society was organized; samurai (warriors); hyokuiho (peasants; 
shoktmin (artisans); and shonin (merchants, traders). These were intended 
to be as permanent as the various kinds of ants in an ant-heap. The 
samurai, who are estimated to have numbered about 350, ooo, 1 were for- 
bidden to work, and above all to engage in commerce; to prevent them 
from turning into a class of unemployed, the bakufii encouraged them to 
devote themselves to arts and letters, with the curious result that, for 
a time at any rate, the military class was the cultivated class. Samurai 
received a government allowance of from twenty to ten thousand hchfl 
of rice a year, depending on their grades, of which there were several. 
The whole burden thus fell upon the peasants, and this, as we shall see 
later, was one of the greatest weaknesses of the system. 

The fourth source from which Iyeyasu and his descendants feared 
a potential threat to the established order was the outside world. 
Foreigners, as we have already seen (page 173), had been received with 
open arms from their first appearance in the little island of Tane in im^ 
The Momoyama period (end of the sixteenth century) was, in spite of 
disputes and misunderstandings, a period of lively exchanges of all 
kinds; not only did many Europeans land in Japan and live there, 
preaching or trading, but Japanese ships continually visited the great 
ports of eastern Asia, and flourishing Japanese colonies were established 
in China, the Philippines, Formosa. Christian missionary work was 
remarkably successful, both in the south (Kyushu) and at Meaco 

1 Inclu ding family and servants, about two millions (Asakawa). 

• A Ms (about forty gallons) was the amount considered sufficient to feed a man for a year. 
Detep, from the point of view of the Tokugawa bureaucracy, were simply samurai whose annual 
allowance exceeded 10,000 Ms. At the head of the list ca me the Moeda, with more than a million 



364 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

(Kyoto); at the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth 
century there seem to have been about half a million converts. Acting 
en the advice of the Italian Jesuit Valignani, some southern Japanese 
daimyo sent an embassy to Rome (1592-91), and another followed a few 
years later (1615-20). Thus the Japanese cannot be said to have been in- 
hospitable, or lacking in a desire to unite their destiny with that of 
the world. 

However, circumstances conspired to persuade the rulers of Japan 
to revise their attitude to the ‘southern barbarians 9 and the doctrines 
which they spread. It should, of course, be recalled that the Roman 
Catholicism of the period, which was that of the Counter-Reformation, 
desirous of compensating by new conquests oversea for the painful 
defeats it had suffered in Europe, presented itself in a guise in which the 
most extraordinary heroism and the most ardent love of humanity 
were mingled with the most bigoted and aggressive intolerance. Such 
a faith was extraordinarily well adapted to fire the Japanese mind, which 
is always ready to respond with enthusiasm to doctrines which promise 
glory and require total adherence, undisputed obedience, extreme 
sacrifices. There were some (like the daimyo of Bungo) who adopted the 
worst characteristics of the new doctrine and started hunting Buddhist 
priests as if they were hares or wild boar; but there were also many men 
and women, and even children, who faced horrible deaths singing 
hymns and praying for their executioners. 

Phenomena of this sort were bound to make the rulers of Japan 
shake their heads. Christianity, whichever way it was looked at, was 
a cause of ferment, which might easily assume forms dangerous to the 
established order. Besides, it undermined the very foundations of the state 
by introducing another loyalty, all the more dangerous because of the 
acts of heroism which it was capable of inspiring. To that there must be 
added the bitter rivalry between the various religious orders (Jesuits, 
Franciscans, Augustinians, Dominicans), whose zeal and ambition 
ended by revealing some unedifying aspects of the character of the men 
‘with red hair 9 ; to say nothing of the rivalries and intrigues of the 
various nationalities (Portuguese, Spanish, British, Dutch) to secure 
special commercial privileges for themselves. Finally, there was the un- 
fortunate mixture of religious propaganda and commercial expansion. 

It is therefore not in the least surprising that Hideyoshi, once 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAVA 


365 


convinced that there was a secret link between the preaching of the 
missionaries and political penetration, should have taken severe mea- 
sures to restrict the complicated and often obscure activities of these 
foreigners, which can hardly have been intelligible to him. The first 
decree prescribing them was issued in 15S7. Perhaps in the years that 
followed it might have been possible to come to terms had not two 
unyielding forces quickly been brought into conflict — Iyeyasu on the 
one hand and the bateren 1 on the other. If it is true that the bad relations 
between Japanese and westerners, and the religious persecutions in 
particular, must be attributed chiefly to European errors and blindness, 
it is also true that the personality of the Tokugawa shogun, with its 
paradoxical combination of vigour, intelligence, narrow-mindedness, 
and selfishness, laid its icy grip on the final outcome of events. There is 
. 'ways one effective, if absurd, solution to all human problems. The 
problem of indigestion, for instance, could be solved by not eating, or 
of road accidents by banning motor-cars. Similarly, the 'southern 
barbarians’ could be prevented from causing more trouble by closing 
the gates of Japan to them, breaking the bridges between Japan and the 
outside world. This was lyeyasu's famous policy of exclusion (sakoku), 
which was faithfully and inflexibly followed by Hidetada, Iyemitsu, and 
all the other shoguns of his line until 1854. 

The closure took place in stag es; even the persecution of Christians 
became severe only when previous measures turned out to be ineffective. 
What should we do if Buddhist monks persisted in making clandestine 
landings on our shores, to preach a faith that we considered subversive! 
Today we should deport them, but three centuries ago we should have 
used more drastic measures of discouragement. It is sufficient to recall 
the fate of Savonarola, Giordano Bruno, and others who came into 
conflict with western orthodoxy. 

Between 1615 and 1637 the Japanese persecution reached a pitch of 
horrible intensity ; during this period, one of the blackest pages in human 
history, men showed both the most revolting cruelty and the most 
sublime heroism of which they are capable. The tragedy reached its 
climax in the Shimabara revolt, when of 37,000 Christian peasants only 
105 survived. In 1630 the importation of any book which mentioned 

1 Prom the Portuguese for 'fathers'. Many It a l ia n preachers died a martyr's death during this 
period. 



366 MEETING WITH JATAN 

Christianity or was written by a Jesuit was forbidden. In 1639 Japan 
cut the last links and shut herself offfrom the world. Any foreigner who 
landed in Japan was liable to the death penalty, as was any Japanese 
who left the country, or, having left it, returned. The only tenuous 
thread that was permitted to survive was a small Dutch trading station 
at Nagasaki, to which one ship a year was permitted to sail from Macao. 

By shutting out the world in this way the Japanese threw away the 
great economic and political advantages of a position in the Pacific 
similar to that of Britain in the Atlantic; and not only that, they 
restricted themselves to a mental and physical strait-jacket at the 
very moment when the west was setting out on the meteoric advance 
of the modem age. As, however, any policy, any line of conduct, per- 
sisted in to its logical conclusion yields positive results, and as in the last 
years of the seventeenth and the earliest years of the eighteenth cen- 
tury many forces that were later to diverge with grave ill effects were 
working harmoniously together, Japan enjoyed a brief summer of 
wealth and splendour. This more or less corresponds with what the 
Japanese call the Genroku period (1688-170J), 1 or the shogunate of 
Tsunayoshi (1680-1709), a complex figure — a magnificent patron of the 
arts, a man of extreme superstition, and a bad financier. 

During these years Japan enjoyed the benefit of long and uninter- 
rupted peace. After four centuries of warfare, arms at last served only 
for the splendid processions and ceremonies which accompanied every 
important event at the courts of the shogun or the daimyo. During the 
seventeenth century there was a slow but steady increase in population; 
according to a census held in 1721, there were 26 million inhabitants of 
Japan. Trade and commerce, though often hampered by the short- 
sighted policy of the bakufu, flourished; for the first time in Japanese 
history the despised class of artisans and traders became an important 
factor with the growth of big towns — Yedo, Osaka, Sakai, Nagasaki, 
Kyoto. 

1 The Japanese, following an ancient Chinese custom, do not date their history as we do, but 
subdivide it into successive eras of five or six years. In the past these eras were often changed for 
astrological reasons, or simply to bring good fortune. After itat, however. It was decided that every 
era should correspond with die reign of an emperor. Thus the Meiji era (isas-isu) was followed by 
the Talsho era (isn-tsas) and the Showa, the present era, from isas onwards. In Japan the year test 
is Showa XXXIH. It is a picturesque but inconvenient system, and in modem history books a start 
Is now being made in the use of the western system. 



SIGNATURE OP THE TOKUGAWA Jf 7 

It was at the turn of the seventeenth century that Japanese civili- 
zation assumed the social, artistic, literary forms so well known to the 
west; it may be as well, therefore, that we should have a look at these, 
bearing in mind that many of the phenomena concerned do not 
correspond in time to the true Genroku period. 

One feature was a return to China for the fundamental sources of 
inspiration. Both Christianity and Buddhism had appeared as disinte- 
grating elements in relation to the state; the former was ferociously 
persecuted and rigorously excluded ; 1 the latter was circumscribed and 
restricted, lost its driving force, became cold and formal, an empty shell. 
The best Japanese minds, partly spontaneously, partly encouraged by 
the bakufu, applied themselves to the version of Confucianism developed 
by the famous Chinese thinker Chu Hsi (1130-1200). Here the Japanese 
f and a philosophy of life which, having been profoundly influenced 
by Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and religious Taoism, was less rationalist 
and rigid than the original; in western terms it might be described as 
a kind of stoicism. What appealed to the Japanese was the fact that at the 
core of a grandiose metaphysical system lay the ancient principles of 
loyalty and harmony between ruler and ruled, father and son, husband 
and wife, etc., etc. The Five Relationships reflected the fundamental 
order of the universe.* 

It would be interesting to deal more extensively with the philo- 
sophical background of the period, particularly because Confucianism 
often assumed the characteristics of a religion, influencing men and 
their conduct, not only by the force of ideas, but by the far more power- 
ful driving force of myths. During the Tokugawa period Confucianism 
invaded every sphere of Japanese life; the age-old natural tendency of 
this people to organize themselves pyramidally found expression in 
a philosophy of life which had the impressiveness and beauty of a temple. 
At the same time there was brought to perfection the closely knitted 
fabric of mutual obligations which still permeates the whole of Japanese 

1 Some groups of Christians succeeded In surviving in secret near Nagasaki; they were redis- 
covered in isas. 

1 In the history of Japanese thought little part Is played by the personal sense of sin* which In 
w est e rn men has engendered puritanical complexes and driven them to extremes of restless 
Inquiry and despair. The Japanese have cared little for abstract Ideas of good and evil, but they have 
always been concerned with problems of behaviour, as questions of a man's duty not so much to 
himself as to the society of which be Is a mcmber.'-G. B. Sanson. Joym, a Short Gale ml History . 
London, ten. p- «7t. 



368 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

society, and the position of mothers, sons, fathers, the aged, the de- 
pendent, girls, artists, geishas, leaders, beggars, prostitutes, hermits, rich 
men, saints, the Emperor, the pariah, master and pupil, master and 
servant, were defined in all their innumerable aspects. 

In literature, in spite of the depressive atmosphere created by the 
official tyranny, there was intense activity in the most varied fields. The 
production comprised 'history, biography, poetry, the drama, essays, 
sermons, a multitude of political and religious treatises, fiction of 
various kinds and travels, with a huge mass of biblia abiblia, such as dic- 
tionaries, grammars and other philological works, bibliographies, medical 
works, treatises on botany, law, the art of war, commentaries on the 
Chinese classics (in themselves a host), expositions of Buddhist doctrine, 
encyclopaedias, antiquarian and metaphysical works, guide-books, and 
so on *. 1 From the times of Iyeyasu onwards the shoguns kept as coun- 
sellor, as a kind of living moral conscience, a kangakusha, or 'master of the 
Chinese sciences’. One of these, notable for the wide range of his in- 
terests, was Arai Hakuseki (1637-1725), who wrote with great fluency and 
learning on history, economics and finance, philology, travel, art 
criticism, law, and strategy. 

For us his most interesting work is the Seiyd Kibim, the record of 
a long interview with Father John Baptist Sidotti, of Palermo, who suc- 
ceeded in entering Japan in 1708 and was promptly arrested and taken 
to the Kirishitan Yashiki at Yedo, where the rare missionaries who suc- 
ceeded in breaking the ban on entry into Japan were kept in isolation. 
Sidotti was the last missionary who set foot in the forbidden land until 
the second half of the nineteenth century; and Arai’s work was the first 
sign of a renewal of the Japanese interest in the west. Almost insur- 
mountable language difficulties made it hard for the two to understand 
each other. Arai, while he professed the greatest admiration for the father’s 
knowledge and erudition, regarded his religion as utterly incompre- 
hensible and strange. 'Suddenly folly takes the place of wisdom,’ he wrote, 
'and it is like listening to the talk of two different persons.* Sidotti died 
wretchedly in 1715. after baptizing the two old gaolers who looked after him. 

So much for what might be described as the orthodox attitude of 
the ruling class. The Tokugawa period was, however, characterized by 
the birth and rapid growth of a bourgeoisie which, if it enjoyed no 

1 W. G. Aston, A History cf Japan* Iterator*, London, 1S99. 




Kusemai 
(Ancient dance 
and song 
combined) 


Bugaku 

(Court dance of 
Chinese origin) 


Sarugaku no N5 
(Dance and 
recitation) 


Sarugaku 
(Comic entr'acte, 
often indecent, 
to Kagura 
dance; perhaps 
ofChlneseorigin) 


Kouu 

(Popular ballads, 
often 

accompanied 
by dances) 


Kowaka 
(Recitation 
accompanied 
by rhythmical 
tapping with the 
fan) 

Dengaku no N6 
('Country 
performances', 
comic scenes 
and acrobatics) 


Kagura 

(Sacred Shinto 
dances of great 
antiquity) 


Origins of the N3 theatre 


J70 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

prestige, bong preceded in the social scale, not only by the samurai, but 
by the peasants, acquired increasing wealth, and hence social strength 
add importance. A characteristic of the second half of the period, from 
the Genroku era onwards, was the struggle conducted in every field- 
economic, political, philosophical, artistic— between the supporters of 
the aristocratic ideal, who were both proud and noble but were now 
slowly dying of conformism and immobility, and those who felt the 
pulsation of a new life rising from below, from the people. 

The academic literature of the period is, generally speaking, erudite, 
stale, and dry-as-dust, but the true, spontaneous literature expresses 
a vivid joy in life, an unbridled taste for everything pleasurable, amusing, 
extravagant, sensational. It was the classic period of novels of adventure 
and eroticism, whose characters move in the perfumed and sinful 
atmosphere of the big towns ‘where night never falls’. Ibara Saikaku, of 
whom a critic of a later period said contemptuously that ‘he had not 
a single Chinese character in his belly’, 1 went on producing books for 
decade after decade, the titles of which, according to a Puritan English 
historian,* are 'too gross for quotation’. 

One of the things in which the Yedo period showed special origin- 
ality was the theatre. Here, too, the characteristic dualism made its 
appearance. On the one hand there was the No theatre, with its dancing 
and symbolism and poetry, and on the other the Bunraku (puppet 
theatre), which was bom and flourished most notably at Osaka, and the 
Kabuki theatre, which was primarily a Yedo product. I should properly 
have mentioned the No theatre in connection with Yoshimitsu and the 
civilization of Kyoto in the Muromachi period (fourteenth-fifteenth 
centuries), but thought it better to say the little that I have to say about 
the Japanese theatre in one place, and to save it until now, because it 
was in the Tokugawa period that the No theatre assumed its place in 
Japanese society. The bakuju included it in its ceremonial for great 
occasions, and the enthusiasm for it reached a high pitch, particularly 
in the times of the Shogun Tsunayoshi; it was not for nothing that the 
stem moralist Arai Hakuseki denounced these performances on the 
ground that they led to perdition, and persuaded the government to 
substitute ancient Shinto music for them. 

• Tike Kit of knowledge, according to Chlneie medicine and psychology. 

»W. G. Aston. 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAWA JJl 

A No play is essentially a short sequence of dialogue, dance, and 
song, with the occasional accompaniment of musical instruments; it is 
less a drama than a scenic opera, intended to bring to life a poetic mo* 
ment, using symbolic and often almost abstract means. Both its form 
and its repertory, which survive to this day, were the creation of the 
brief and brilliant dynasty established by Kannami Kiyotsugu and his son 
Seami Motokiyo, which flourished between 1350 and hjo, i.e., the period 
of Yoshimitsu, of the Golden Pavilion, and of the Sung influence of 
Kyoto. The No drama was a happy combination of many pre-existing 
elements (see illustration on page 369). Kannami supplied definite, but 
not rigid, models which authors of later times have always respected. 
The language is the court language of the fourteenth century, allusive, 
elegant, effective. The actors wear masks for many of their parts; their 
, -ng training starts at the age of about seven, and they are not con* 
sidered fully trained until they are nearly thirty. This extraordinary 
seriousness of the theatrical profession has been handed down from 
ancient times, and the results are evident in the Japanese cinema. 1 

The popular theatre, though it existed in various forms from the 
earliest times, owes its true birth to the genius of Chikamatsu Mon- 
zaemon (1633-1724). Many of the fifty and more plays that he wrote are 
still played today. He wrote his jcnin* for the puppet theatre, as first 
actresses and then actors had been banned from the stage as immoral 
in one of the bakufu’s numerous outbursts of Puritanism. 

As for lyric poetry, it is sufficient to recall that Bashd (1643-1694) 
belongs to the earlier phase of the Tokugawa period, and that the names 
of his major pupils fill the period until our own times with perhaps 
greater continuity than in any other department of literature. 

In the arts the panorama is vast, full of vitality and conflicting 
forces; here, too, what is most significant is the product of the new 
bourgeois and popular world. I refer particularly (but not exclusively) 
to the ukiyo-e, which towards the end of the seventeenth century as- 
sumed the form well known to everybody as Japanese prints. 

For a s ubstantial part of the Yokugawa period painting was officially 

* The ordinary N* repertory comMa of about two hundred and fifty pUyiimorcthaiiabundrad 
—and the bat— of them bear the nameaotScaml or hit father K e n a in i. 

1 From the of a twelfth-century princes; a play in which die waa a chancier waa the 
pifca 4t rt&ama of the popular atage. 



372 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

represented by the Kano dynasty, in which, in accordance with the 
custom, descent was from father to son or adopted son. As often 
happens in such cases, particularly when the artists enjoy the favour of 
a powerful government, they were skilful, learned, decorative, often 
precious, but they lost in sincerity, freshness, ilm. Bdkufu taste was 
dominated by the ethical principles of Confucianism; the Zen lyricism 
of earlier times was regarded with suspicion. The object of art was ‘to 
ennoble man, to illustrate models of conduct, to serve in the purpose 
of good government and to suggest virtues symbolically'; 1 and we, 
observing contemporary examples, are only too well aware of how 
damaging such restrictions are to artistic spontaneity. These were also 
eclectic times; the two great traditional schools of Tosa and Kano often 
produced works difficult to distinguish from each other’s and from those 
of the pupils of Tdhaku, Togan, and Yushd. 

The only outstanding figure is Kano Tanyu (1602-1674). During his 
life-time he was exalted as a master without rival by the bdkufu and the 
most eminent daimyo, high honours in the Buddhist hierarchy were 
conferred on him, and on all matters connected with art his word was 
considered final. It is impossible to cast doubt on his immense technical 
skill, the mastery of line that he exhibits in his many celebrated paint- 
ings, ‘the noble, ample, breath’ by which his work is invariably distin- 
guished, but we are a long way from the fire and ecstasy of Eitoku or 
Sanraku. 

In a certain formal sense the painters of bunjitt-ga (‘paintings by 
literary men’) were related to the Kano dynasty, inasmuch as they 
followed in the path of Chinese inspiration. They did not constitute 
a proper school, but consisted of a great many men, for the most part 
modest samurai, or members of the new bourgeoisie, who were united 
by a desire to express themselves in painting and poetry and shared 
a certain contempt for technique and professional polish. The bunjin-ga 
(or nan-ga, ‘pictures from the south’, because their inspiration was 
drawn from southern Chinese artists) are ruminations in familiar 
themes, woods, huts, mountains, flowers, hermitages, sages meditat- 
ing or cheerfully feasting under a tree; in their moments of happiest 
inspiration they are convincing for a certain clean and serene 
sincerity. 

1 R. T. Pains, in TEi Artmd AnUttdm ofjopm t London, 1917. p. 107. 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAVA 


373 


Another group of important artists close to the traditional schools 
of Kano and Tosa, both because of their approach to their art and their 
personal circumstances, consists of Koetsu, Sotatsu, and, above all, 
Ogata Korin (1658-1716). Korin was one of those outstanding personalities 
who are bound to make a deep impression wherever they appear, and 
the supreme Japanese virtues of purity, simplicity, and a poetic sense of 
the oneness of man and the universe shine in him in splendid bright- 
ness. The fusvma , l the lacquered boxes, the screens, on which he left the 
evidence of his harmoniously unsymmetrical genius, combine the most 
intense sensitivity to the miracle of life with an aristocratic disdain for 
pedantic detail. 

The cult of detail, redeemed by a loving humility, characterizes, 
and, in the differing context, not adversely, the work of Maruyama 
vkyo (1733-1795)- This painter, who was of peasant origin, ignored the 
classic (Chinese) literary inspiration and opened his eyes directly on 
nature— plants, flowers, landscapes, animals— and immersed himself 
in it. But China, thrown out by the door, came in again by the window; 
for in the last analysis Okyo drew his inspiration from a great Chinese 
artist, Ch’ien Hsuan (1235-1290). 

Many Japanese of the period, particularly those who favoured the 
‘literary men’ style, and those of the Kano school, looked down on 
Okyo and his disciplies as copiers of nature, men who felt neither 
the need nor the desirability of rooting their inspiration in an ideal 
world. 

Similarly looked down on, not just by some, but by everybody, were 
the artists of the period who in our own day enjoy the greatest fame; 
that is to say the painters of ukiyo-e, ’pictures of the ephemeral world’. 
This form of Japanese art is so well known that a critic (Professor T. 
Sagara) has said: ’For many westerners Japanese painting is probably 
represented solely by coloured prints.’ Few episodes in the history of art 
are more extraordinary than the spontaneous growth in isolation of this 
art form of striking originality and vitality which developed, matured, 
and decayed in the course of two centuries. It should be noted, however, 
as the reader will have realized, that it was only one of a number of 
voices of its time. 

It would take us too far afidd to trace the numerous remote threads 



374 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

that connect the ukiyo-e to the main body of Japanese artistic production; 
in any case, the work that has been done in this field has been admirably 
'summarized by Paine . 1 It is interesting to note in the first place that 
ukiyo-e as a genre developed very slowly, and that only when it had 
firmly established itself did it find its happiest expression in the form of 
prints. What exactly is an ukiyo-e ? I have already mentioned (page 36) 
the meaning of this typically oriental term; ukiyo is the ‘floating world’, 
that is to say this earthly life, and more particularly the ephemeral lives 
of actors and courtesans, of the pleasures of the moment, of brief loves, 
of the fascinating, evanescent things the pleasurability of which is over- 
shadowed by impermanence; e means picture, image. For centuries, 
side by side with the ‘official’ art nurtured on Chinese traditions by the 
Kano school or on native traditions by the Tosa (or Yamato) school, 
there had been artists who had pained scenes of everyday life. These 
sometimes appeared on scrolls that illustrated the events and festivals 
of the year (nenju gyoji ), and sometimes illustrated people’s trades, or 
(a special case, confined to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) the 
strange ways of ‘southern barbarians’ — Portuguese and Spaniards, 
Catholic missionaries, Dutch traders. With the pax Tokugawa and the 
development of a class of wealthy townsmen, the new popularity of the 
theatre, and the widespread softening of customs, a demand arose for 
illustrations of the things and scenes of everyday life. In view of the 
rigid stratification of Japanese society, the painters of ukiyo-e ignored all 
learned references, paid no attention to the cultivated traditions of the 
samurai or the aristocracy, and wholeheartedly devoted themselves 
to painting anything that was immediately pleasing, desirable, exciting. 
Their favourite themes were geishas, courtesans and their life, actors 
playing their parts, legendary warriors and ancient heroes, a few classical 
personages, often parodies, as when ShunshO made his amusing series 
of prints called The Seven Women in the Bamboo Grove, in which he poked fun 
at the well-known theme of the Seven Sages in the Bamboo Grove, so popular 
with the severe Confucians. Finally, there were the frankly erotic 
haru-e, ‘spring figures’, to which even the greatest painters devoted 
themselves with pristine innocence. 

The history of ukiyo-e, in the narrower sense of the word, is generally 
considered to have begun in 1638, with the publication of Moronobu’s 

1 R. T. Pam, Ik. d L Chapter u. 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAWA JJ5 

famous book of illustrations. These were simply woodcuts in black and 
white, but hand-painted colours were soon added. The ‘primitive' 
period is generally considered to have ended with the invention of two- 
colour and then three-colour printing towards the middle of the 
eighteenth century; finally, in 1765, all technical difficulties were over- 
come, and twelve colours or more were printed on the same sheet. The 
years that followed, up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, 
were the golden age of the ukiyo-e ; the level remained high for a few years 
longer, and then it suddenly declined, and its glory departed for ever; 
and today, perhaps, no trace of it would remain but for the fact that first 
the Dutch and then the French fell in love with these ephemeral works, 
which in Japan were considered superficial, negligible, and plebeian. 

The ukiyo-e are delightful at every point of their technical and 
artistic parabola. The tender, innocent, tremulous girls of Harunobu 
(1725-1770), the plump, sinuous, enchanted creatures of Koryusai (floruit 
1764-1788), the noble, sometimes proud and marvellously elegant, half- 
divine creatures of Kiyonaga (1752-1815), and finally the passionate, 
fragile women of Utamaro (1753-1806) are a permanent enrichment 
of the human imagination. 

The last of the masters were the two wizards of landscape, the 
dramatic and inexhaustible Hokusai (1760-1849) and the gentle, elegiac 
Hiroshige, with his humility in the face of light and clouds and the 
things of his country. 

In architecture the Tokugawa period, apart from the limited field 
of the suki-ya (tea pavilion) and the quiet development of the ordinary 
house in village, town, and country, was frigidly academic. We have 
already spoken of Nikko, and many other civil or religious buildings of 
the time reflect the formal, erudite, often pretentious spirit of the 
regime. The only exception is the Katsura villa, which has the serene 
glow of an earlier age, though chronologically it comes just within the 
limits of the Tokugawa period. 

Japanese sculpture, after the glories of Nara and Kamakura (eighth 
to fourteenth centuries), declined completely. This is a curious pheno- 
menon, for which it is hard to find an explanation. Even today, though 
in Japanese painting there is vitality and creative talent, sculpture is 
groping painfully in the dark. During the Tokugawa period manual 
ability survived and was perfected; in fact the famous Hidari Jingoro 



376 MEETING VITH JAFAN 

(1594-1634) belongs to the period; he was a prodigious craftsman, who 
left many specimens of his work at Nikko, Nagoya, and elsewhere. Most 
of them are decorative panels in which animals, flowers, branches of 
trees are woven into patterns; you do not know whether to admire the 
brilliant technique shown in overcoming every limitation imposed by 
the material or to feel sad that so much skill should reveal a spiritual 
content of such disconcerting poverty. 

The same skill, often enlivened, however, by subtle poetic sym- 
bolism, or playful commentary on life, is to be found in many well- 
known examples of what in western terminology we should call the 
minor arts; in netsuki, for instance, tiny sculptures mostly used as but- 
tons; inro (lacquered medicine boxes); fubako (boxes for writing ma- 
terials); tsuba (sword hilts), and in weaving, iron-work, lacquer, porce- 
lain, earthenware; in short, in all the numerous products of artisans 
who were perhaps without equal in the world. 

After the Genroku period the economic, political, and intellectual 
forces which tended to undermine the Tokugawa regime grew more 
and more threatening. Some shoguns, like Tsunayoshi, sought salva- 
tion in inflation; others, like the stern Yoshimune (1716-1745), succeeded 
in temporarily arresting the decline. But inexorable laws, then not 
understood, resumed their shaping of men and events. The population, 
which reached a level of between twenty-eight and thirty million, for 
a long time remained stationary . 1 

The Tokugawa system, enclosed in its own little world, might 
perhaps have been able to achieve a satisfactory equilibrium had it not 
been burdened from the outset by the weight of an unproductive army 
of samurai, useful in time of war, but a ruinous luxury for ten conse- 
cutive generations of peace. With the growth of the towns economic 
power gradually passed from the warlike nobility to the merchants. 
Rice had a regrettable tendency to pass out of the hands of the daimyo 
and the samurai and to find its way into those of merchants, brokers, 
bankers, where it was transformed into something new, of which few 
suspected the extraordinary power, namely money. When the barons 
and their followers tried to find a way out, they did not tax the bour- 
geoisie, whom they needed, but the peasants, who were already op- 

1 For the extent to which periods of famine, the practice of abortion and infanticide, and other 
factor* contributed to this m G. B. Sansom, Ik. at., p. jot. 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAVA 


377 


pressed to the extreme limits of tolerance. Thus the only truly pro* 
ductive class in the country found itself with its backs to the wall, and 
desperate rebellions became only too frequent. Agriculture suffered, 
and the very foundations of the system threatened to collapse. With the 
first decades of the nineteenth century a mercantile economy can be 
said to have painfully overcome the preceding agricultural phase, but 
for that very reason the isolation of Japan could no longer be main- 
tained. The bakuju , tied to its traditional policies, was like a gnarled old 
tree-trunk, still impressive to look at, but hollow inside and ready to 
collapse at the first severe shock. 

So much for economic events; equally important was the ferment 
of new ideas. When the Tokugawa encouraged the samurai to busy 
themselves with literature and philosophy, thrv certainly did not think 
t". t they were digging their own grave; but that was the final result. 
Interest in ancient history, which was pursued in particular at the court 
of the princes of Mito, research into the origins of Japanese poetry and 
the Japanese language to which the wagakusha ('students of Japanese 
affairs’) devoted themselves, ended by making it clearer and clearer that 
the shoguns were usurpers of the imperial privileges. The learned 
researches of Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769) into the Manydsku and the 
Norito, those of Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) into the Kojiki, and those of 
Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843) into the Shinto religion, and similar work by 
their pupils, provided the intellectual content for the movement which 
culminated in the restoration, the handing back of power to the 
Emperor (1867-68). 

Another factor was the growing influence of western science 
During the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth the 
Japanese had met only one face of European civilization. But with the 
passage of time faint echoes of the new, original, and vitally important 
developments with which the mind of man was being enriched in the 
west reached the outposts of Asia through the Dutch warehouse at 
Nagasaki. Even the suspicious bakuju was forced somewhat to relax the 
boycott, and as early as 1719 permitted the importation of certain Dutch 
books on medicine, astronomy, and other scientific matters, though 
only a few trusted scholars were permitted to read them. The experi- 
ences of a few men who, overcoming the most incredible difficulties* 
succeeded in taking advantage of this exiguous means to form a vague 



378 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

and ■confused idea of foreign lands, and discovered a fabulous, unex- 
plored world of ideas, art, and powerful magic— namely Europe— be- 
yond the known and revered China and the mythical India of Shaka 
(the Buddha), provide one of the most fascinating pages of Japanese 
history . 1 

Towards the middle of the nineteenth century the situation in the 
Pacific, in view of the competition of British, Russian, and American 
interests, was such that Japan, if she were not to resign herself to becom- 
ing a colony, was bound to take an active part in the international game; 
and the strong external pressure was reinforced by powerful domestic 
factors, both economic and in the field of ideas. The question was 
whether Japan was to be opened up by explosion from within or by 
siege from without; and, in the event of the latter, whether the in- 
visible walls would crumble at the hands of the British, the Russians, 
or the Americans. In the end it was the Americans who pushed them 
over. In 1853, and again in 1854, Commodore Perry appeared with his 
‘black ships* in the Bay of Yedo, within cannon-shot of the seat of the 
bakufu , and a long period of history was over. The old order succeeded 
in hanging on for another fourteen years of great confusion, but in 1867 
Tokugawa Keiki, the last of the shoguns, handed back power into the 
Emperor’s hands, and a year later the Meiji (‘Enlightened Government') 
period began. The mean centuries were over and the century of great 
adventure had begun. 

That brings us to our own day. The history of subsequent events is 
too well known for me to need repeat it here. Yedo was transformed 
into Tokyo, and once more became the Emperor's residence, and the 
feudal order was abolished in 1871; western techniques, the western 
calendar, and many western customs were adopted; religious liberty 
was proclaimed; the Kuriles and the Ryu-Kyu islands (Okinawa) were 
annexed ; the first political parties and the first newspapers were founded ; 
a constitution and parliament were established (1889-1890); a victorious 
war was fought with China (1895) and Formosa was annexed; the treaties 
were revised and Japan granted absolute parity with other nations; 
a victorious war with Russia was fought in 1904-5, and the island of 
Sakhalin was added to the Japanese possessions; Korea was annexed in 
1910; Japan took part in the world war of 1914, and in 1918 was granted 

1 Sit D. Kbxnb, Tk Jqomm Dixmmj 0/Bmp, London, stsa. 



SIGNATURE OF THE TOKUGAVA 


379 


a mandate in the Pacific; next came the penetration of Manchuria and 
war with China; all these were big and little steps in the short but fateful 
path that led to Pearl Harbour, and then to the most significant date 
in 2»ooo years of Japanese history, the defeat of 1945. 

The consequences of this last are so profound and extensive that 
much time will have to pass before they can be correct!) evaluated. 



Sketches from a world in transition (about 1*70) 




12 



Red Skies Over Nagoya 


The Tempaku 

O N the way from Kyoto to Nagoya we avoided the main road that 
goes direct to Otsu and instead took a side road, unfamiliar to most 
people, which winds its way pleasantly through the woods and valleys 
on the outskirts of the city. Years ago, when we lived in Kyoto, we used 
to cycle this way, and that made this a sentimental journey. First of all 
you go through a shady gorge beside a rushing stream, gradually climb- 
ing to the quiet little village of Yamanaka ('Among the Mountains’), 
where the old houses are half-hidden in gardens and stacks of timber. 
A little farther on there is a pass, not more than 1,300 feet above sea level, 
with a magnificent view towards Biwa lake and the plain of Omi — the 
distant villages scattered about the latter look like toys. 1 

We reached Nagoya at about ten o'clock. The weather had gradually 
deteriorated; the sky was dull grey. As if drawn by a magnetic force, 
I took the Yagoto road. After passing the last suburban houses, we went 
down a short stretch of road, or rather track, across a bare, rocky, 
deserted stretch of country. There, on a hill, was a building that looked 
vaguely like a chalet; it was the Tempaku-ryo, where 1 was interned 
with my family during the war. It was originally a rest and recreation 
centre for the staff of a big firm, and as such it must have been agreeable 

1 The eight beauties of the lake of Biwa are famous; they have been catalogued by Japanem 
poets in emulation of the similar catalogue of the beauties of Tung-ting lake drawn up by Chinese 
men of letters. They are: the snow on Mount Hira at sunset; wild ducks in flight at Katata; rain at 
night at Karisaki; the sound of the Mil temple bell at evening; sun and wind at Awazu;the last light 
at Seta; the autumn moon at Ishiyama; and sailing boats returning at Y abase. 

3S0 



EED SKIES OVEE NAGOYA }8l 

enough. But it was not suitable for living in all the year round, par- 
ticularly in a country where the winter is long and hard. But there it 
was. When we rounded a bend and I saw the well-known outline of 
the roof, my heart missed a beat. 

We left the car at the entrance. A cold wind had arisen, a reminder 
of some of the worst hours of our stay here; it had grown darker, and 
perhaps it was going to rain. The place seemed deserted. After much 
calling, an unattractive, unkempt, badly dressed girl opened the door, 
and silently let us in, as if she had been expecting us. The place had 
obviously not been repaired or put back into use since the war. Nothing 
had changed; 1 recognized all the innumerable familiar little things 
which tie us to a place where we have lived for a long time; damp 
patches on the walls, knots in the wood, cracks in the fittings which I 
•mid describe inch by inch. The damage done by the earthquake of 
December, 1944, was still discernible. The small space all round the 
house was covered with weeds. 

If all that vegetation had been there in our time, we should have 
eaten it; but then there was nothing but stones. But let me tell the 
story in order. 

From September 8 , 1943 (the date of the Italian armistice), the police 
confined us to our house; we were forbidden to communicate with 
anyone, or to use the telephone. We had been vaguely informed that 
we should get ready, but for what’ Presumably for internment, but 
uncertainty, as always, was worse than any positive bad news. After 
some days our 'arrest* was formally communicated to us; I have de- 
scribed this incident elsewhere, 1 and therefore shall not do so again. In 
fact we ceased to 'depend* on the Italian Embassy (the Japanese always 
regard foreigners as 'dependent 1 on their embassies; one*s country is 
a big family, society a closely knit, hierarchical texture of mibun and 
giri), and henceforward we were 'dependent* on the Japanese Minister 
of the Interior. On the last day but one before our departure my wife 
was allowed to take the children to the doctor, escorted by a policeman. 
Two days later the journey began. It was one of those marvellous 
autumn days on which Kyoto is more beautiful than ever. The light, 
the colour, the sky stifled Miki’s tears and those of the children; it was 
impossible to be sad. Even the police, who had known us for years, were 

> Scene Tibet, Hutchinson, London, sad The Viking Free, New York, less. Chapter VOL 



}82 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

friendly; they escorted us as unobtrusively as possible. We went in two 
taxis, and we might have been on a Sunday outing. In the train, how- 
ever, the restrictions began to be perceptible. We were forbidden to speak 
to people, to look out of the window, to get out As Toni, aged two, 
attracted the attention of the Japanese women in the same compart- 
ment, the police opened a brakeman’s box and put the child and me in 
it, with a big bottle of milk. Two hours later we reached Nagoya; in the 
distance we could see the castle, which was later to be destroyed by 
bombs, with Tokugawa Iyeyasu’s famous golden dolphins shining in 
the sun. 

At the station the Kyoto police handed us over to the Nagoya 
police; their surly faces and dry orders formed a sharp contrast to the 
behaviour of the junta of Kyoto, who were at heart a quiet, decent lot, 
principally concerned with keeping out of trouble with their superiors. 
We were taken to Yagoto by tram, and then on foot, across the stony 
hills that we saw again this morning, to the Tempaku. There we met 
other Italians in the same condition as ourselves, including Giorgio and 
Somi, to our great pleasure. There were also some other old acquain- 
tances. After nearly a month in isolation, it was a great pleasure to be in 
company, and to be able to exchange news and conjecture. We liked 
the place; the magnificent autumn sun made everything a little more 
tolerable. 

The first few days passed peacefully, while we settled down into 
a routine that was to remain unchanged for many months. The Nagoya 
chief of police came and talked to us. He told us in effect that we were 
in his hands, and that if we behaved things would be all right. Then he 
introduced us to our four guards, who were to live at the Tempaku and 
be on duty two at a time. The senior of these also made a speech, repeat- 
ing the same points and adding that we should have to live entirely in 
Japanese fashion; this implied that the womenfolk would enjoy no 
privileges, that we should have respectfully to greet our superiors 
morning and evening, that food would be sparse, and that we should 
show gaman, i.e., patience and fortitude, in facing what lay ahead of us. 

This beginning, apart from some minor details, did not seem to be 
too bad; and the small group of Italians, thrown together by chance at 
the extreme confines of Asia, set out on what was to be a long and 
painful experience with high morale. It turned out that we were all 



RED SKIES OVER NAGOYA 3*3 

there for anti-Fasdsm, either suspected or openly declared. Giorgio told 
us that at Tokyo there had been a solemn ceremony at which every 
Italian citizen had had to declare on oath whether he was with Mussolini 
or Badoglio. Apart from Somi and Giorgio, there was a stout old diplo- 
matist of Jewish origin who for intelligible reasons had left the service 
some years previously and had been living in retirement in Tokyo with 
his Japanese wife; there was a missionary and his lay assistant, and a 
variety of others who had been caught in the net. The police appointed 
as incho (‘head of the community’) an old resident of Yokohama who 
was bom in Japan and therefore spoke excellent Japanese. 

Our friends from Tokyo told us that nearly all the members of the 
embassy staff had been summarily deprived of diplomatic privileges 
and confined in a house near the capital. The on lyrepresenutive of Italy 
to whom the Japanese granted recognition was a certain Colonel 
Principini, a Fascist transferred from Manchuria. The Imperial Govern- 
ment appeared to be particularly incensed against the dissident Italians 
because the crews of some of our ships in the Far East had tried to 
scuttle them. Our behaviour, from the Japanese point of view, stank of 
treachery, i.e., the lowest depth of moral turpitude. Contempt was 
implicit in every word and gesture of the only Japanese whom we saw— 
that is to say, our four policemen. Our only redeeming feature was that 
we could be considered ‘loyal to our King’; we were therefore not 
entirely without chugi (‘a sense of loyalty'). Those who tried explaining 
our position to the police took advantage of this argument. Would they 
not follow their Emperor in every conceivable circumstance! The 
argument, however, did not make much of an impression, and it had 
its dangers, for it was based on the heretical assumption that the Japanese 
Emperor and ordinary crowned heads belonged to the same category, 
but at any rate it was formally accepted as reasonable. 

Our initial optimism was also favoured by the fact that we con- 
sidered ourselves friends of Japan, not in any political or partisan sense, 
but because we were bound to it by strong ties of affection; nearly all 
of us, in fact, spoke Japanese. It seemed reasonable to expect at least 
humane treatment. 

My wife’s diary during those first few days had optimistic entries. 
She noted that the house was tlean and in a beautiful spot, that there 
were tatam on the floor, that the police here were stricter but not 



384 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

impolite, and that, having got used to being called 'you, MarainiP they 
had that day actually called her ckusan (Mrs.), and that they seemed to 
be becoming more humane, seeing that we all behaved marvellously, 
never complained, and never asked for anything. Only the men had 
asked permission to shave every day, and that bod been granted. The 
food was meagre, but it was said that it would improve after the begin- 
ning of November. The children were allowed everything. She noted 
that Japanese kindness to children was extraordinary, that she was given 
milk for them, and that they were allowed in the garden whenever they 
liked. 

That entry gives some clue to what our life was like. A necessity of 
the Japanese character, to which I alluded in the chapter on the Toku- 
gawa, is that of regulating every collective function in the most minute 
detail. Imagine sixteen Latins put at the mercy of the most bureaucratic 
police in the world. But they had to obey silently, and to say hai, yes, to 
every new restriction. Every half-hour of the day was regulated. Those 
like Giorgio, Somi, and myself who had looked forward to using our 
internment for reading and study were quickly disillusioned; reading 
was permitted only for a short time in the afternoon. We had to get up at 
six, wash, and clean the house. Breakfast was at seven, followed by half an 
hour’s rest; and so on, until ten o’clock at night. Moreover, space was 
regulated as well as time. Here you were allowed between seven and 
half-past, but not between ten and twelve; there you could sit but not 
read, here you could walk but not speak, and so on and so forth, in an 
infinity of meticulous rules laid down with exasperating impassivity. 
Sleeping during the daytime was absolutely forbidden. 

The fire to heat the bath was lit once a week. It was a handsome, 
wooden bath, and the water was really hot But Japanese rules of prece- 
dence prevailed. First of all the police took their bath, followed by the 
housekeepers (an old couple whom we rarely saw), then the oldest 
internees, followed by myself, my wife, and children. On the first 
occasion there was a general protest at this imposition; we asked that at 
least the children might be allowed to have their bath when the police 
had finished. But a question of principle was at stake, and we had to give 
in. A few weeks later we had other things to worry aboutthan precedence 
in the bathroom. 

On November 21 my wife noted in her diary that after a month of 












;# * |j 

, 1 ; * r 8 §b§ I 

4 ,J: 1 i, 

ii •■ 











IBD SKIES OVEK NAGOTA 


this she felt that she was reaching the end of her tether. During the first 
few weeks we supplemented our meagre rations with tinned food which 
we had brought with us, but then we went on short commons. After 
some initial variations^ our rations were stabilized at twenty-eight go 
of rice a day for sixteen persons , 1 plus a few spoonfuls of miss (bean 
paste), shoyu (soya sauce), and some vegetables. Every now and then we 
would be given some small fish (half each); we saw meat perhaps once 
a month, a few grammes each. This diet was sufficient to sustain life on 
the borderline between survival and disintegration. 

Every link with the outside world was cut The Tempaku house is 
isolated in the middle of a bare heath. The old professor and the diplo- 
matist among us received short visits once a month from their wives, 
the missionary was visited about once a month by a German father, 
but these v _ exceptions. We were not allowed to receive 'parcels, gifts, 
help of any kind. Our mail was, of course, censored, and delayed for long 
periods before we received it. 

With the end of November it started getting cold; there was no 
means of heating, and our sensitivity to cold was increased by under- 
nourishment. All of us, at any rate the men, started suffering from 
incontinence of urine; I was among the more fortunate, having to get 
out of bed only two or three times a night; others had to do so five, six, 
sometimes eight times. The lavatory was a long way from the room 
where we slept; you had to go down a staircase, and then down a long, 
barely lit corridor, the wooden boards of which echoed hollowly. I shall 
never forget the encounters with my fellow-internees in this corridor 
in the middle of the night; we all tried to wake ourselves up as little as 
possible, and we crept past one another without speaking, wrapped in 
a blanket or shawl, or cloak. In the morning the less fortunate were 
exhausted, but it was forbidden to remain in bed even for five minutes 
extra. A medical examination would have been desirable, but this, In the 
absence of fever or any more obvious symptom, was difficult to obtain. 

After engaging in a few conversations during the first few days, our 
warders withdrew into the most complete reserve. They never raised 
their voices, they appeared rarely and always unexpectedly, checked 
that everything was in order, said nothing, and vanished again. We soon 
discovered what their method was if they wished to punish us; they 

I*, about op gramma of rice each; «f» h about m cubic c enamrt ra. 

2B 





386 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

simply decreased our rations. Gradually every detail of our lives was 
regulated in a fashion from which it was not permissible to depart by 
a hair’s breadth. After our evening meal, which consisted of a plate of 
rice and a cup of Japanese tea without sugar or milk, the two of us whose 
turn it was to work in the kitchen next day went to the police to fetch 
the bun, the rations. This was the supreme moment of the day; we were 
reduced to a state in which one go more than usual was enough to make 
us jump for joy like children, and one less enough to plunge us into the 
blackest despair. We would sit waiting in anxious silence in the little 
so-called dining-room, and we could tell what the situation was like 
from the sound of the footsteps of the men coming back. Sometimes 
one of them would come running in. ’Boys! there are two eggs!’ he 
would exclaim (the two eggs were for sixteen persons, of course), or: 
‘We’ve got twenty-eight go !’ Such occasions were rare, however. More 
often the footsteps in the corridor would be dragging and depressed, 
and the ’cooks’ would open the door and deposit the bun box on the 
table, announcing in lugubrious tones: ‘Only twenty-four go.' You felt 
as if you were being very slowly strangled, and that your life was ebbing 
away. 

At first we tried protesting, but soon discovered that it made 
matters worse; they were determined to bend us to their will, reduce 
us to dying with a smile on our lips, saying thank you; then, perhaps, 
they would grant us the small supplementary ration that would keep 
us going for a few more hours. 

The four policemen formed a compact, unanimous, unassailable 
and incorruptible block. The senior of the first couple was named 
Kasuya; he was a meticulously groomed, thin little man of about thirty, 
who never raised his voice and hardly ever smiled; I shall always re- 
member his slender, nervous, intellectual’s hands. He spoke a little 
English, and may have understood Italian. We immediately christened 
him Valentino, because he looked like a film star. He was the most 
feared and hated of the four, because he was the most intelligent. 
During the early days his companion, Nishimura, gave us some extra 
vegetables and some extra go of rice, but one day Kasuya caught him at 
it, and that was the end of him so far as we were concerned; our contact 
with him ceased to exist. 

The senior of the other two was Aoto, a short, rough, crafty indi- 



RED SKIES OVEK NAGOTA 


vidual of about fifty, who had obviously made his way up in the world, 
quite the reverse of Kasuya; his unpleasantness lacked the cold and 
calculated quality of Kasuya's, and was more direct and plebeian. He 
sometimes raised his voice and lost his temper, and sometimes had 
moods in which he behaved like a crude but kind patriarch taking pity 
on the poor devils whom chance had delivered into his hands. When 
you asked Aoto for anything, there was always a chance that you might 
find him in a good mood, but with Kasuya never. The fourth man was 
named Fujita; he was young, ferocious, stupid, and had an overweening 
sense of his own importance. He was the most obviously militarist of the 
four. He strutted about with his chest stuck out, bawled at us like a 
sergeant-major, and took every opportunity of making us speeches 
about the greatness of japan and the sublime majesty of the divine 
Emperor. v _ used to call him Radetzky, but he was the least to be 
feared of the four, because he was the most stupid. 

We naturally tried as far as possible to follow events in the outside 
world. After a time we were allowed two newspapers, the Mamkhi and 
the English-language Osaka Mainichi. Events seemed to move with exas- 
perating slowness; the spectacular Japanese advances southward had 
been stopped, but there was nothing in sight that seemed to bring any 
promise of peace. How long might it last! Two, three, five years? It is, 
I am afraid, impossible to communicate to the reader the sense of total 
isolation, total abandonment, in which we lived. Vast distances separated 
us from the nearest friendly persons; to attempt escape was unthink- 
able in a country where a westerner is identifiable half a mile away. We 
might have been buried alive. Sometimes black despair seized hold of us, 
and we privately resigned ourselves to death. 

As can well be imagined, furious arguments arose among us about 
almost everything under the sun ; hunger sharpens both the intelligence 
and the temper. How would the Japanese react when they suited losing? 
Whole life-times of experience and torrents of learning, the sciences 
human and divine. St. Thomas, Aristotle, Hegel, Vico, Spenglcr, 
Gobineau, Buddhist philosophy, were marshalled in the course of heated 
debates about this question, which was of such vital concern to us. 
Some, including myself, argued that they would be worse than ever; 
certa morte ferocwns. The fiery, "brilliant, and cultivated old diplomatist, 
however, maintained that they would be as gentle as any cooing dove. 



388 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

The argument continued evening after evening, and many months 
later he was proved to be right. 

These discussions were our only pastime (games were not allowed), 
and they sometimes acted like a drug, an anaesthetic. After squabbling 
about religion, politics, archaeology, health, the literature of I do not 
know how many different periods and civilizations, science, fashion, the 
east, law, and I do not know what else, we would suddenly notice that 
two hours had passed like a flash. Two hours nearer to liberty ! X hours 
minus two!' somebody would exclaim. Then suddenly, having heard 
our raised voices, the silent shadow of Kasuya in slippers would appear 
behind the glass door, reminding us that we were impotent, useless, 
forgotten men, perhaps near a sudden, silent end. 

The characters of the members of our little group revealed them- 
selves in innumerable ways, and there was little about ourselves -that 
we were able to conceal from each other. The four old gentlemen all 
resented each other. The diplomatist, a courageous, highly intelligent 
man of the world, full of an extraordinarily youthful vigour, who had 
enjoyed by no means inconsiderable successes in life, could not stand 
the incho, who had spent his days behind an office desk in Yokohama. 
The white-haired professor of languages always remained apart from 
everybody else; he was the only one who did not seem to fit in. He used 
to have private conversations with the police, and we never understood 
what was really going on in his mind. After six months he suddenly 
disappeared one day; he had been released. He left us almost without 
saying good-bye, taking with him every tin of food in his possession. 
Equally unsociable, on the whole, was the missionary, a hard Pied- 
montese, who was difficult to understand. 

A second group consisted of what I might call the Strong’ men, 
the seven who took turns in doing the ‘fatigues’— kitchen duty, sweep- 
ing and cleaning, the odd jobs that always turn up in an old house full 
of people. It consisted of a chemist from Naples, an engineer from 
Milan, a Fiat representative, a peasant from Friuli, a student from Rome, 
Giorgio, Somi, and myself. The Roman student was often gloomy and 
silent, though he sometimes unexpectedly raised his voice; he seemed 
to get on well enough with the missionary; the two in fact formed 
a sub-group by themselves. 

Naturally, after the first few days, squabbles arose, as was inevitable 



UD SKIES OVER NAGOYA 


among persons confined for a long time in a limited space. During the 
first period, however, the storms were confined to the upper layer of 
the atmosphere; they did not yet touch the deepest, darkest roots of the 
personality. We were educated, twentieth-century Europeans, arguing 
about politics, religion, aesthetics, confronting a hostile environment 
in a compact, dignified manner, determined to overcome every obstacle 
with the aid of reason and good sense. 

When Christmas approached, my wife and children spent their 
time making little presents, dolls, etc., out of odds and endis. A letter 
arrived from the Uriu saying they had sent us some mochi, the traditional 
Japanese rice-sweet made for the New Year; but by the time the police 
handed them over they had become mouldy and uneatable. By econo- 
mizing with the rations we managed to set aside enough flour and sugar 
to make a ■ jet for Christmas Eve. The cooking and distribution of this 
famous dish was a matter of earnest discussion for days on end, but it 
was eaten in a minute. However, that night we slept better; it seemed 
warmer, and there were fewer of those ghostly walks along the corridor. 

Plenty of ordeals and humiliations lay ahead of us. Shortly before 
Christmas a military commission had appeared at the Tempaku and 
interrogated us one by one about our attitude to events in Italy, which, 
of course, we knew about only in general outline. It must have decided 
that we were beyond redemption, and that the authorities had been 
quite right to lock us up, and that locked up we should remain. That, 
at any rate, was the assumption. All we knew for certain was that from 
the New Year onwards there was a new turn of the screw every day, 
whether in the absurd disciplinary regulations or the gradual reducrion 
of rations, calculated in such a manner as to keep us just alive. We were 
reduced to twenty-six, and often twenty-five or twenty-four, go of rice 
a day, and we lived in fear of a still greater reduction. The chemist and 
the engineer put their heads together and calculated that we might 
perhaps be getting 800 calories a day; an inactive adult requires at least 
2,000. 

When the human organism is subjected to this treatment it reacts 
by using up its reserves. We all got incredibly thin. The unfortunate 
Neapolitan chemist aged in an alarming manner. His eyes grew sunken, 
his skin hung in folds rounli his neck. On Saturdays, the day of the 
weekly bath, we amused ourselves by studying each other’s skeletons; 



390 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

only the three old men and the priest to some extent maintained their 
physical condition, for their rations were supplemented from outside; 
the extra that the laymen received from their wives, the priest from 
a colleague, was little enough, heaven knows, some fish or dry bread, 
or a bottle of oil ; but it served to combat the extreme limit of starvation. 
For all of us hunger had previously been something we had read about 
in books, in Canto XXXIII of the Inferno , for instance; we had little 
thought that we should ever become experts in this, one of the most 
terrible of human ordeals. 

Three times a day, in the morning after our few spoonfuls of rice 
and our hot cup of miso, and at midday and in the evening, after our single 
meagre plateful of rice, over-cooked to increase the volume, we had 
half an hour of peace and tranquillity; after that hunger began its 
gnawing again, sometimes in the form of pain, a sensation of void inthe 
stomach, sometimes in the form of extreme weakness, which was far 
worse. Those who managed to hide themselves from the eyes of Kasuya 
would then lie down somewhere to save their failing breath. Those who 
amused themselves by taking their pulse found that the rate was fifty 
or less a minute; life was just ebbing away. At night the torment was 
dreadful. Though exhausted, we could not sleep. Getting up for the 
usual pilgrimages down the corridor required an enormous effort. 

Meanwhile the cold had grown intense. The only place where 
there was any warmth was the kitchen, at any rate during the few hours 
when the fire was alight to boil the luma , the rice pot. But the police 
forbade the kitchen to anyone not working there. The result was that 
a kind of black market arose; a few spoonfuls of soup would be bartered 
for a spell of kitchen duty. At night we slept fully dressed under our 
futon ; it was like camping in the high mountains. Saturday, bath day, 
was the only occasion on which we had a two-hour respite from con- 
tinual shivering. 

January passed and February came, a truly terrible month. More 
and more often rice was replaced by less nutritive or less digestible 
substitutes, such as soya beans or a coarse kind of macaroni, flour, bread, 
or, worst of all, dried sliced sweet potatoes which when cooked produced 
a black brew containing a minimum of nourishment. Meanwhile we saw 
boxes of sugar, baskets of eggs, bags of rice, packets of miso , bottles of 
shoyu arriving at the camp and mysteriously disappearing. Only after the 



BBD SfIBS OVBB NAGOTA 


wbt, from information received from Tokyo, were we able to confirm 
our suspicions; our warders were a collection of racketeers. The whole 
Nagoya police force was trafficking at our expense. The Minister of the 
Interior had laid down very generous rations for us. The ordinary 
Japanese ration was 2.3 go of rice daily, with small quantities of other 
foods depending on their availability; in addition to the ordinary rice 
ration, we should have received supplementary rations of eggs, fit, meat, 
beans, and bread. But the Nagoya police saw their opportunity; the 
Italians, being enemies and traitors into the bargain, would receive just 
enough to keep them alive; the rest would go to their own benefit. The 
full rations arrived at the camp, but quietly disappeared again in small 
parcels on Kasuya’s or Aoto’s bicycle, or in the suitcases of their su- 
periors, who every now and again paid us unexpected, ceremonious, or 
even cheer f 1 afternoon visits. It was this that enabled us to understand 
the loathing for the police, the heir of the hated metsuU under the 
Tokugawa, felt by all decent Japanese. 

During that February we all, I think, passed through a profound 
crisis; we were so near death that the only choice seemed to be between 
giving in and dying and fighting tooth and claw for whatever chance 
of survival there might be. The Milanese engineer grew so weak that 
Kasuya had to allow him to stay in bed; he spent the days motionless, 
his eyes covered by a black carnival mask, a relic of happier days that had 
been left in one of his suitcases. The old diplomatist had a long illness of 
the respiratory passages, and some evenings we thought he might be 
going to die from one minute to the next. So mi and others had the first 
symptoms of beri-beri— swollen legs, bleeding gums, irregular heart- 
beat. Everyone felt at the extreme limit of his resources. There seemed 
no choice but revolt or death. 

My wife and children no longer moved from their room. On 
January 10 she noted that the temperature of the room was at freezing 
point, and that the children were lying down. 

‘January 19. For some days past great perspiration during the 
night, very tired during the daytime. Hunger from morning to 
night and from night to morning. The doctor came, said 1 was suffer- 
ing from kakke (beri-berf) and malnutrition (what a discovery!). 
I hope it will move them. . . . January so. Stayed in bed because of 



392 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

.pain in the legs; very discouraged yesterday. . . . January 28. Felt 
ill at lunchtime and feeling of nausea. Could not see, hands insen- 
sible, feeling of being unable to breathe, and then intense cold. 
Dreadful. They carried me upstairs. Kasuya-san came too. How 
angry I am that he saw me in that state ! Look at that weak European 
woman, he must have said to himself, who faints and trembles and 
weeps (I couldn’t repress a few sobs), and her weak husband embrac- 

and kissing and holding her hands He sent me up an egg and 

three mandarines and a little sugar. For several days past they have 
been giving me mandarines that I hate eating by myself. . . . 
February 15. Time passes, but our situation does not change. ... I feel 
dreadful, weaker than ever. I was up for four days, but one evening 
I again felt oppression, shortness of breath, and nearly fainted. 
Since then I have been in bed, and if I get up for more than ten 
minutes 1 feel ill. . . . Hunger, hunger, emptiness, weakness; it is 
impossible to think of anything else. . . . February 19. It snowed. 
Zero or at most four degrees in the room in the evening, cold.’ 

Food became a mania with us all. From morning to night we were 
like stray dogs looking for a bone. We had long since ceased talking 
about anything else. Every day someone or other would think of some 
idea, on which we would work feverishly, only to be defeated in the 
end. The chemist thought of straw, of which there was a quantity about 
the house. But how were we to free it from its cellulose, make it edible? 
We tried pounding, kneading, boiling, roasting it, all in secret, like 
conspirators making bombs. I suggested acorns, and wc carried out all 
sorts of experiments with them, but it was impossible to rid them of the 
tannin. After a heavy fall of rain we tried the mushrooms which sprang 
up under the trees. Somi ate one, saying: 'If 1 die, all right; if not, we 
shall be able to fill our bellies.’ Unfortunately these mushrooms were 
a powerful emetic; one was harmless, but the big plateful which we all 
ate, satisfying our appetites for the first time in months, had the effect 
of castor oil. 

This incident ended in laughter, and even the grim Kasuya was 
amused when we told him about it, as we had to, in view of the effects 
and the colour of our faces. Other incidents, however, ended in tears 
or scenes. Every evening, after the swift emptying of the wretched 



RED SKIES OVER NAGOYA m 

plates of over-cooked rice, we started indulging in daydreams, talking 
about our favourite dishes back in Italy, until someone, more nervous 
or more sensitive than the rest, jumped to his feet, told us to shut up, 
walked out and slammed the door. Food formed the background of all 
the children’s games. They used a box of paints to mark stones the 
colour of bread, vegetables, meat, fruit 

We had long since left politeness behind; nothing was left but the 
imperious need to survive. Under the tension personalities started to 
disintegrate; every night we receded a few more centuries. One morning 
we were Merovingians, another Scythians and Huns; we reached the 
Neanderthal stage, and finally one day wc became wild animals. The 
bone of contention, needless to say, was rations. Theoretically we 
should have received 36.8 go of rice a day, v»hich would have kept us 
going. Instei the police (apart from deductions made as punishments 
and out of pure robbery) gave us food ‘for fourteen , which meant that 
the little community as a whole had to deprive itself to provide food for 
the youngest children. Until we reached the Palaeolithic stage the ques- 
tion remained dormant; but then the day came when people started 
counting spoonfuls, and saying it wasn’t right for adults to be deprived 
for the sake of children, or that it was the parents who ought to make 
the sacrifice, that three spoonfuls were all right, but four, no. It was 
a problem to which no satisfactory solution was possible, but it re- 
mained a continual source of trouble until we managed to an extent to 
side-step it by means of the stratagems which I shall shortly describe. 
I do not wish to imply that our companions were mean or selfish; we 
were reduced to a level at which we fought tooth and nail to survive 
‘We ought to be able to console ourselves’— I read in my wife’s 
diary— ‘by the thought of the thousands (or millions) of persons in the 
world who are as badly or worse off than we are . . . but when you have 
hunger-cramps, and your head aches, and you go and look for food in 
the dustbin, it is impossible to console yourself with anything I' Nothing, 
unfortunately, grew in the grounds of the house (except, rarely, the 
emetic mushrooms; nothing grew on the stony soil even beyond the 
barbed wire except junipers and some dried-up bushes, vegetation 
which a botanist would immediately identify as xerophilous, adapted to 
dry conditions. Thus the day came when we started taking an interest 
in the police refuse-bin. The passage from the habits and values of 



394 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

civilized life to the habits of moles was painful but, once we had 
accepted the new order of ideas, we felt, or at any rate I felt, a kind 
of revitalizing slap in the face. First we acted secretly, unknown to 
each other. I remember making a list when going to sleep in the even- 
ing of what I had scavenged in the course of the day: a bit of cabbage 
picked up during the morning while sweeping (excellent); some man- 
darine peel picked up at eleven o’clock near the door (delicious); 
some potato peelings retrieved from the dustbin (divine); a fish-tail 
found at six o’clock just after dark, unfortunately with hair on it 
(disgusting but nourishing). ... On one of these days the chemist from 
Naples caught me with my hands in the dustbin. Tosco, you ought to 
be ashamed of yourself!’ he exclaimed. 'What a thing for a lecturer 
of the Imperial University to do!’ I think I blushed; I certainly with- 
drew. But five minutes later, going by chance to the kitchen window, 
I saw him doing exactly what I had done. Looking back on it now, it is 
laughable; at the time these things assumed the proportion of tragedies. 

Another private crisis for everybody was the first theft. I shall never 
forget mine. I stole a carrot. Vegetables were stored in a place which 
could be reached by climbing a wall; as a mountain climber, I noticed 
this, and decided to make the attempt. The vegetables were part of the 
police ration, and I was therefore not robbing my companions. 1 climbed 
up, went in, and fell on a heap of carrots; to me they were riches, dia- 
monds, gold, rubies, uranium, the most fabulous riches in the world. 
I filled my shirt with them to take them to the children; outside, by the 
light of the stars, 1 ate one. Heaven forgive me, I said to myself, eating 
this most exquisite carrot, which was still all earthy. 

Gradually these ’salvaging’ expeditions became the normal thing. 
We lost our sense of shame, and organized them in gangs of two or 
three. One man acted as look-out, or distracted the attention of the 
police, while his companions got to work. One day the engineer made 
a sensational discovery: the key of one of his trunks fitted the padlock 
of the room under the staircase which the police used as their larder. 
The discussions that followed this electrifying discovery were long, and 
as vitriolic as the atmosphere of conspiracy in which they took place per- 
mitted. The old men, whose rations were supplemented from outside, 
were opposed to any ’salvaging’. The diplomatist pointed out that if we 
were discovered we should suffer severely, and they would all have to 



KBD SKIES OVIK NAGOTA JM 

pay for it Several others were doubtful. Somi o b ser v ed philosophically 
that it was a magnificent idea, but excitement caused hunger, hunger 
made more food necessary, and to get it more stealing would be re- 
quired; it was a vicious circle. That left three of us: the engineer, the 
man from Friuli, and myself. 

Every detail of the coup was worked out. We decided that the amount 
that we would steal would be a minimum, to be carefully worked out, 
and that it was essential to keep the police under constant observation, 
both before and afterwards. We decided that it was possible that for 
a time they might pretend not to notice, in order the better to catch us 
out later. We agreed that the best time would be in the evening, prefer- 
ably on a windy day, just after the new shift had come on duty, while 
the news was being broadcast. This had two advantages: (i) the attention 
of the polr would be monopolized by the loudspeaker, and (ii), if it 
were subsequently noticed that anything was missing, it would most 
probably be assumed that the previous shift had been helping them- 
selves. In great secrecy we made small bags to put the booty in, and 
waited for zero hour. Because of my knowledge of Japanese, it was only 
too obvious that I should have to act as look-out; I should have much 
preferred to be ‘on the job’ with the others, though the task assigned to 
me could turn out to be both difficult and dangerous. Knowing that the 
police were much worried by mice which haunted the Tempaku and 
helped themselves to an unauthorized share of the rations, I armed 
myself with a stick and a big, empty tin. If Kasuya or one of his col- 
leagues appeared, 1 was noisily to drop the tin to warn the others and 
fling myself under a table shouting: ‘A mouse! A mouse!’ and, as an 
additional security measure, I should try if possible to trip up the police- 
man. 

I shall never forget our first raid on the store-cupboard. We ap- 
proached it from opposite directions and I stopped outside the police 
door. As soon as the news had suited, I made a sign to my companions, 
and they disappeared. My heart thumped; the time seemed to pass at 
a snail's pace. Every noise was like a shriek; the police stood still. From 
down the corridor I heard the sound of the cupboard door being quietly 
opened. Suddenly 1 saw a shadow on the glass door of the police room. 
It was Kasuya; I recognized his unmisukable silhouette, his odious, 
elegant, feline gestures. He stood there for a moment, listening, and 



396 MEETING WITH JAFAN 

then turned away and sat down. Had he suspected something? Seven 
or eight minutes later, when 1 heard the door of the store-cupboard 
gently closing again, and realized that I could go away, I was exhausted 
by the tension. 

A few minutes later we were in the luggage-room on the first floor. 
We were forbidden to go there without permission, but in winter the 
police never went up there because of the cold. 

‘You should have seen it !* the engineer exclaimed. ‘Rice, rice, whole 
boxes of rice ! What a sight ! 1 wanted to take pounds and pounds. We 
took only a few go; it was much wiser. . . . And then beans, noodles, eggs, 
just think of it, eggs and sugar ! What a sight !’ 

Our attitude to food at that time was tender, mystical, religious, 
ready to become lyrical at the slightest excuse. It was then that I came 
to understand many aspects of primitive life that normally seem strange 
and incomprehensible — the divinity of corn, bread, the harvest. 

Henceforward, and practically until the end of our internment, 
these salvaging operations occupied a good part of our time and a great 
deal of our thoughts; perhaps it was thanks to them that we managed 
to survive in reasonable condition. Some minor deity (Mercury? Ebisu?) 
must have kept watch over us, for we had the good fortune never to be 
caught, though we had some narrow shaves. The actual robbery was 
only the principal link in quite a long chain. We scientifically divided 
the whole thing into nine phases: (i) preparation of kit; (ii) making the 
haul; (iii) removing it to prearranged place; (iv) organization of com- 
munal store; (v) dividing the haul; (vi) taking own share to private 
hiding-place; (vii) removing own share from hiding-place to kitchen; 
(viii) cooking it; (ix) eating it. A single mistake in any of the nine phases 
would have blown the whole thing sky-high. 

Taking the stuff from hiding-place to store, and from store to 
kitchen, was exceedingly dangerous, for if a policeman had stopped us 
and noticed an over-full pocket, it would have been the end. The same 
applied to the cooking. There was no end to the stratagems to which 
we resorted. We hid tins with a handful of rice under the communal 
pot; flat tins of beans went up the chimney; and onions were concealed 
in the ashes. To hide the onion smell, we pretended to be repairing 
a hot-water bottle; the smell of burning rubber smothered that of the 
onion. Finally there came the eating; this was done rapidly, standing 



RED SUES OVER NACOTA Jff? 

in some hiding-place, while somebody else stood guard; it would have 
been a fatal mistake to be seen with one’s mouth full out of hours. For 
me there was a tenth phase— taking the cooked food from the kitchen 
to the room where my wife and children were. 

Thus by thieving and ingenuity we managed to get through the 
winter. On March 5 we were visited by Colonel Principini, the repre- 
sentative of Mussolini’s short-lived puppet Italian Social Republic, with 
some of his aides. We were allowed to speak to him only in (apanese, 
and were not allowed to approach him closely. We were too terrified to 
tell him that we were hungry. Besides, for those who have never been 
hungry, what does hunger mean? A word in a dictionary, not a torment 
in your inside. 

Even more absurd was the visit of a Red Cross delegate on March 19. 
The evenif\ .before Giorgio, who was always the first to smell anything 
new in the wind, said: ‘Something’s going to happen, you’ll see.’ The 
slightest prospect of ‘something happening* was always sufficient to put 
us in a state of hysterical excitement. On this occasion the real surprise 
occurred when double the usual rations were handed out, besides eight 
eggs, and various other things. Someone suggested that they wanted to 
feed us up before letting us out; or before sending us to prison, someone 
else suggested. Finally Kasuya arnved, all smiles, told us how we were 
to cook the next day’s rations, and how we were to eat them; above all, 
before sitting down to table we were to await his signal. We spent the 
morning in a state of feverish excitement; the slightest, most insigni- 
ficant incidents were sufficient to plunge us into the wildest expectancy 
or the deepest gloom. At last the meal was ready— a magnificent meal, 
with portions actually sufficient to fill our plates. At a signal from 
Kasuya we took our places and started eating. A few moments later the 
door opened, and a distinguished-looking European gentleman of 
Nordic appearance looked in at us and smiled. Before we had a chance 
to pull ourselves together and start explaining to him that he was the 
victim of a gross deception, Kasuya, with an elaborate display of bows 
and smiles, led him away. We subsequently learnt that this gentleman 
was a representative of the Red Cross; that he went back to Tokyo and 
reported that all was well with us; and that his name was Angst ('fear'). 

During our long internment the only visit that resulted in any- 
thing was that of Monsignor Marella, the Apostolic Delegate in Japan. 



398 


MEETING WITH JAPAN 

His diplomacy even succeeded in getting the better of Kasuya, with the 
result that he managed to talk to us and listen to our complaints. He 
left us a supply of tins which saved us from the necessity of ‘salvaging 1 
for two whole months. 

None of these visits, however, made any fundamental difference to 
our position. My wife noted in her diary: 

‘April 2. Everybody down in the depths— high hope has given 
way to deep pessimism. We were all certain we should be let out in 
March; now we’re convinced that we shall be here for years. And 
we are like a lot of squabbling children. One wants tea before nine 
o’clock and another after; one wants his carrots cut in cubes and 
another in slices, and people accuse each other of having moved 
their slippers, or gone out without shutting the door— ^or, still 
worse, they start personal discussions or insulting each other.’ 

In such circumstances people’s sense of property is exasperated, 
becomes pathological. One of the older men had a small saucepan, 
another had a small bottle, the chemist had a pocket knife, I had an 
earthenware lighter, Somi an ashtray, etc., etc., and each one of us 
concentrated on these commonplace objects all the loving care, the 
feeling that they were vital extensions of our personality, that in normal 
circumstances is diffused and diluted over a whole wealth of things. 
These objects were like fetishes; woe to anyone who dared touch or 
move them! and if they were lost or broken, there would be high 
words and threats of violence. But violence there was none. Though 
we sometimes felt like fighting, we hardly had the strength to stand 
erect. 

Winter gradually faded into spring, and spring faded into the long, 
silent rains of early summer. In May the bread incident occurred. The 
police must have made a profitable exchange of rice for bread, for one 
day we saw what Somi christened ‘the cubic yard of bread’ arriving at 
the Tempaku. The police, having little experience of this exotic food, 
were not aware that, unlike rice, it quickly grows mouldy in a damp 
climate like the Japanese. A fortnight later we saw Kasuya and his men 
anxiously working in the open store-cupboard. After a few moments 
of anxiety (had they discovered our depredations!) we realized that they 



MD SKIES OVEE NAGOYA 


were taking the ‘cubic yard of bread*, which by this time was green with 
mould, out into the garden to bury it; perhaps they thought it would 
help to manure the small vegetable plot which they sometimes amused 
themselves by digging. In any case, after they had finished burying it, 
we saw to our horror that they started pouring liquid from the cess- 
pool over it 

The sequel was a measure of the state to which we were reduced. 
As soon as it was dark we went into the garden, dug up the bread, and 
took it into the kitchen, where the chemist, the engineer and other 
specialists first roasted the damp, earthy, mouldy fragments and then 
boiled them with some shoyu. That night there was an extra plateful for 
everybody; it was a wonderful occasion, and we went to sleep happily, 
like cave-dwellers in a famine who had feasted on a putrefying 
hyena. 

With the spring we discovered other ways of supplementing our 
diet— ferns, snails, and an occasional snake. Wild chicory leaves were 
a great delicacy, and so were some kinds of roots. We had become 
experts; we could smell out food a mile away. We never succeeded in 
satisfying our appetites, but we were so emaciated, the arrears to be 
'made up were so huge, that sudden abundance might have been 
dangerous to us. 

High summer came, and heat had never been so welcome. It was 
the equivalent of a certain amount of food ; the body, not losing so much 
heat, needed less fuel. We learned to sleep sitting in the most uncom- 
fortable positions; the extent of human adaptability is incredible; you 
discover it only under the pressure of circumstances. The war, so far as 
we could tell, seemed to have got bogged down, and the attitude of the 
police never changed in its methodical hostility. Perhaps I may be mis- 
taken, but I do not believe that with us the police would have had 
sufficient self-control to be able to persist so steadily, consistently, and 
single-mindedly in a deliberate programme of minute vexations; there 
would have been days when they became vulnerable, weakened a little, 
let slip a kind word, showed a spirit of accommodation in some minor 
matter, accepted a bribe for some petty favour. Nothing of the sort 
hap pCTiad with our Japanese. We might have been dealing with mem- 
bers of a religious order ; they* were, and they remained, unapproachable, 
incorruptible, always in the breach. 



Hunger-Strike 

After the rainy season, which ends in July, for some mysterious reason 
—perhaps a new and harsher chief of police— a new period in our lives 
began. Our wretchedness, our malnutrition, reached such a pitch that 
we decided on a hunger strike. It was a sudden decision; somebody 
suggested it, and everybody immediately agreed. 'At least the fact that 
we exist will be brought to somebody’s notice,’ remarked one of the old 
gentlemen, who had now been forbidden to receive food parcels. Now, 
the last thing that the Nagoya police wanted — though this was a fact 
that we were able to deduce only after the war— was that our existence 
should be brought to anybody’s notice. An inquiry from Tokyo would 
have spoilt their little game. 

When, therefore, on the morning of July 18, 1944, we calmly said to 
Kasuya, who had immediately noticed that the kitchen fire had not been 
lit: 'Thank you for your courteous and honourable interest, but we have 
decided not to eat today, and we shall not do so until we have had an 
opportunity to speak personally to the chief of police, and until our 
conditions are at least slightly improved,’ we realized that we were 
being taken seriously, very seriously indeed. I still remember distinctly 
the slight and sinister smile into which Kayusa’s thin lips curled as 
he replied: ‘Yoshi’ (all right), 'ima-ni kokai suru zo’ (but you’ll be sorry for 
it). Not two hours later a party of officers and non-commissioned 
officers arrived in a kind of jeep. We were called together outside the 
kitchen and addressed violently in a speech in which the forms of 
maximum contempt of which the Japanese language is capable were 
used. We were told that we ought to be ashamed of asking anything 
whatever, that we had absolutely no rights, that it was a great concession 
that we had been left alive, and that the Italians were liars and traitors. 

‘At that’— I quote from my wife’s diary — ‘Fosco picked up the 
[kitchen] chopper, chopped off the little finger of his left hand, 
picked it up and offered it to the terrified Kasuya . 1 "Itarya-jin uso-tsuki 
de w a nail" (Italians are not liars!) he shouted. There was general 
consternation. I saw everything from behind. At first I did not 
realize what was happening, then I saw from Kasuya’s face. The 

■Actually 1 threw It at him. 


400 



RED SUES OVER NAGOTA 


children saw, and started screaming. I ran forward with Toni in my 
arms, but fainted, and B. carried me upstairs. Let them learn that 
we have character too. The police very shaken and pale.* 

I, too, still have a clear picture in my mind of Kasuya’s white uni- 
form spattered with blood. This detail had a considerable degree of 
magic importance. By my action I had imposed upon him the necessity 
of purification, transferring all responsibility for the incident to him. 
Violence against oneself, shedding one’s own blood, in extreme cases 
sacrificing one’s life, is a demonstration to a superior of one's sincerity, 
and must be carried out with certain formalities — like duelling with us 
— if it is to carry conviction. Fortunately it had all passed off very well. 

I also remember distinctly the scientific detachment with which 
later in th* ..iternoon I watched the purification being punctiliously 
carried out with salt wherever there was the slightest bloodstain. But let 
me tell the story in order. After the yubikiri (‘the cutting off of the finger*) 
I was taken to hospital for treatment. The chopper had cut across 
a phalanx, and a piece of broken bone had to be removed. When I got 
back to the camp I found my wife and children locked in a room while 
the men waited to be interrogated by the chief of police. 

None of us yet knew that a few days earlier the Americans had 
captured the island of Saipan, and that on that very day, July is. General 
Tojo’s government had fallen. Perhaps our warders suspected some 
secret link between our actions and these events. The interrogation was 
severe. The police wanted to know who the ‘ringleader’ was. But there 
was no ringleader; it was a spontaneous action by a group of starvng 
people who wanted to survive. When my turn came, Azumi, one of the 
most villainous of the police officers, immediately asked where the 
finger was. Now, Giorgio, who never loses his head, even in moments 
of the greatest confusion, had picked it up and carefully put it in a 
bottle of spirit from the medicine-chest. The valuable relic was now 
solemnly presented to the board of interrogators; in handing it to them 
1 said jokingly: ‘Here is a present; you can make a sukiyaU of it.’ Alas! this 
was another unfortunate coincidence, for just at that time the Japanese 
had been accused of cannibalism in the allied press. No sooner had 
1 made my unfortunate renlark than Azumi leapt from his seat and 
started striking me in the face, shouting 'AyamariV (Apologize I) 1 
ic 



402 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

laughed, pretended to be vastly amused, and went on laughing while 
tears and blood ran down my cheeks. ‘Jodan data ye,' I kept on saying, 
‘jedandatayo,’ and he went on hitting me; but I do not think that I bent 
my head. In the end he got tired of it, or accepted my statement that it 
was a joke, and returned to his seat. 

Late that afternoon the police officers left, taking Giorgio and Somi 
with them. We were left in the dark, terrified, hungrier than usual, with 
the obscure threats made by the police still ringing in our ears. ‘Weak- 
ness and headache,’ my wife noted in her diary. ‘Electricity in the air; 
two meals missed; everyone very excited.’ Yuki came tip-toeing towards 
me, and brought me a toffee, her ‘great treasure’, which she had kept 
hidden in a little box for who knows how many months. We ended by 
meticulously dividing it into five parts. 

In the succeeding days there followed the inevitable reaction of 
tyranny to a weak attempt at rebellion. The hunger is terrible,’ I find in 
my wife’s diary. 'We now get half a kin (300 grammes) of bread in the 
morning with a cup of miso, less than a go (180 cc.) of flour at midday, 
with pieces of onion, and half a go of rice in the evening, with a handful 
of vegetables for everybody.’ Such a diet is tolerable for a few days if one 
is in good physical condition (and many people would, indeed, benefit 
by it); but with many months of starvation behind you, it makes you 
either half-conscious from sheer weakness, or liable to sudden outburst 
of rage and violence. The daily time-table, with all its absurd prohibitions, 
was re-imposed with all the old severity, and newspapers, the wireless, in 
short all communication with the outside world was totally cut off. 

My wife’s diary speaks of ‘physical weakness’ ; it recalls spots in front 
of her eyes when reading or sewing; it adds that her hair was falling out, 
and it says this: 

‘I remember in the first few weeks of our imprisonment, 
when we were still ourselves, the discussions after meals, the reading of 
verse in the kitchen, the philosophical duels with ladle in hand. Now 
it is as if a grey cloak were suffocating everything, mentally and 
physically.’ 

We hardly spoke, we no longer thought about anything, we wan- 
dered about like caged beasts, we made absurd experiments with the 



KBD SKIES OVgK NACOTA M 

bark of trees, the rare snails that we found, with gras, even with earth 
(someone remembered having read that during famines in China 
peasants ate clay for the sake of the sensation of a full belly). We had 
even dropped our 'salvaging’, thinking it too dangerous to tempt fate 
in the present circumstances. 

After a few days Giorgio was brought back, thinner than ever, dirty 
and with a long beard. He had been interrogated for hours and hours, 
and in the end the police must have been convinced that there had been 
no revolt. But there was no sign of Somi, about whom we were left in 
anxiety. A fortnight later he reappeared. I shall never forget it. I was 
sitting outside when suddenly I saw what looked like a ghost appear at 
the bathroom window. It was Somi. His eyes were hollow, his cheeks 
sunken, his beard long, his shirt bloodstained and filthy. 

No, he plained, he had not been beaten; it had been the bugs— 
the quantity of them! The place must have been a breeding-ground 
And how he had envied them. He had had nothing to eat, but they had 
had him. 

Unlike Giorgio, he had not been harassed with interrogations; 
the police had merely punished him by putting him in a cell which was 
particularly popular with bugs. For food they had given him a potato 
a day and a little water. He said that he had resigned himself to death, 
and that he had passed the time, which had seemed to go more and 
more quickly, in a kind of stupor. After a certain point, he said, you 
went into a kind of daze which was almost pleasing. He had wondered 
whether he still existed. The obvious answer was no, and then for two 
or three hours he had not existed. It was a matter of consolidating ,11 
those little fragments of non-existence into one big, definite non- 
existence. A most interesting experience. 

In honour of Somi’s return somebody produced some tinned meat 
which he had been hoarding for a special occasion. It was characteristic 
of Somi that he insisted on washing, shaving and changing from head 
to foot. Only then, looking terrifyingly thin and pale, red-eyed, but in 
immaculate shirt and trousers, did he come down and ceremoniously 
eat his tin of meat, together with a little rice which had been set aside. 
He continually interrupted his meal to philosophize about life in 
general and life in prison in particular, and interpolated learned refer- 
ences to the customs and habits of bugs. 



Return to Life 

The old diplomatist’s forecasts invariably turned out to be correct 
The period of reprisals which he foresaw as the consequence of our 
’revolt’ duly set in. But then a gradual improvement in our treatment 
began, particularly in regard to the children, whose bottle of milk now 
appeared daily. Slowly our rice ration crept up to the minimum of 
thirty-two go, which was the absolute minimum to which we had 
a right. As I have already several times indicated, the concept of ‘right’ 
in the east is entirely different from that with which we are familiar; 
a right is not a right in our sense, something to which you are inher- 
ently entitled by virtue of your existence, but a concession granted from 
outside and above, and therefore liable at any time to be revoked. The 
first time we dared to speak of our ’rights’ (kenri) 1 in regard to our 
rations, the police laughed in our faces. But it was easy to see that, 
whether because of the course that the war was taking or as a conse- 
quence of our ‘revolt’, our position was noticeably stronger. Our war- 
ders laughed in our faces (thus saving theirs), but we got practically the 
whole of our rations. That was still little enough, but at least it served 
to raise us somewhat above the bestial state to which we had been 
reduced for about a year. 

Once more autumn approached, beautiful as always in Japan. The 
days ripened serenely, the afternoon haze filled the landscape with 
a charming melancholy, the trees dotted about the countryside turned 
rust-colour. We actually succeeded at last in reading and working 
a little. The senseless discipline was a thing of the past; no one came and 
chased you away angrily if you dared to sit and think under a tree. Our 
library was small but substantial. I have often seen the question asked in 
newspapers: if you were allowed to take one, three, or ten books with 
you to a desert island which would you choose 1 That was a question 
with which we were all more or less confronted on the day we were 
told to pack our things and make ready for internment My own small 
collection, gathered more or less haphazardly in the last few days, 
included Flaubert’s novels, Frazer’s Golden Bough, James Joyce’s Ulysses, 
Weber’s history of philosophy, a French medical dictionary, Sansom’s 
history of Japan, the Oxford Book of English Verse, the Divina Commedia and 

1 Word coined in tees (Sec G. B. Sansom, The Western World mJ J q pm, London, m pp. 471-2). 

404 



RED SKIES OVER NAGOYA 


405 

a few others that I can no longer recall. Qorgio and Somi had their own 
little libraries, ranging from the Bhagavad Gita to McGovern's Ancient 
Empires of Central Asia , from Rabelais to Leopardi. Eventually the Red 
Cross, if it did nothing for our starving bellies, sent us a whole shelf full 
of novels and thrillers which served admirably to fill in the empty hours. 
Without news, without mail, alone with our thoughts, with our hunger 
slightly assuaged, we lived in a strange limbo out of the world. 

Soon great changes were to take place. But in the meantime the 
cold returned, and hunger started tormenting us again. Then there 
came the famous month of December, 1944. with the first serious air- 
raid (on December 13), and a period of restlessness on the part of the big 
fish which holds up the world, and the consequent earthquakes; and 
finally a period of extreme nervousness and intractability on the part of 
our guarr*' , we did not know why. 

It was a remarkable experience on that grey, clear, December after- 
noon when for the first time we saw dozens of aircraft in formation 
appearing in the sky. They approached at such a height that at first we 
could not see them; there was nothing but the deep roar of the engines 
and the white vapour trails that spread from an invisible point in the 
sky and grew and grew like colossal flowers in space. We certainly were 
somewhat alarmed to note that they seemed to be makir.g straight 
towards us, but at the same time we were fascinated. Then we heard the 
sinister whistle of the bombs, followed by innumerable explosions; the 
Americans were demolishing the Mitsubishi works near the harbour. 

The first raid was, I think, a lyrical experience for all of us. The vast- 
ness of the spectacle, which was on a scale which we had hitherto 
associated only with natural events, storms, earthquakes; the sense of 
the physical nearness of men with whom our fate was bound up; the 
demonstration that at last things were on the move, freeing us from our 
limbo and plunging us into the midst of immense historical events, 
were all profoundly moving. But after the poetry came the prose. The 
first raid was followed by a second and a third, and then many more; 
often isolated aircraft came at night, dropping a bomb here and there 
as if by chance, or there were air-raid warnings which obliged us to 
carry our children on our backs in the cold and the snow down to the 
damp shelter, where a few Inches of earth offered protection against 
splinters only. 



406 MEETING WITH JAPAN 

Air-raids were soon supplemented by earthquakes. For some time 
the earth seemed obsessed. There were continual tremors, by day and 
particularly by night, and there were frequent rumblings of the kind 
which seismologists describe. The epicentre must have been shallow, 
and pretty near us. At night you would feel a sharp shock under your 
pillow, and then you had to get up and take the whimpering children 
outside; the poor things could not understand why the world was 
conspiring against them in this fashion. One night was worse than all 
the others. At ten o’clock the air-raid warning came and we went down 
to the boku-go, the shelter, and waited until midnight, but there was no 
raid. As soon as we got back to our room and fell asleep there was a 
pretty strong earthquake. Once more we had to go downstairs and 
wait. Eventually we went back into the house, because it was freezing 
and blowing hard. A little before dawn there was another warning, 
followed by a raid almost immediately, and another hurried descent to 
the shelter with the children and our goods and chattels while the bombs 
fell. That day the police insisted on the normal time-table; sleeping 
during the day-time was strictly forbidden. 

One morning, while we were all at breakfast, the earth started 
quaking with a violence and an obvious determination to wreak evil 
that we had not previously experienced. After a moment’s hesitation, 
while the window-panes broke and the plaster fell from the walls, I 
seized the children and we dashed out. Fortunately there was little 
danger of being buried alive even if the house collapsed, because there 
was an outside staircase; but going down it was like negotiating a 
companion-way of a ship in a violent storm, and Toni slid most of the 
way. At that moment the earthquake must have reached its height. The 
earth was undulating just as if it were a liquid ; it was impossible to stand 
on one’s feet; it was a sight I shall never forget. Then it suddenly stopped, 
and it was all over. Our house, which was well pegged down against the 
high winds that blew on the hillside, was still standing, though the 
walls had peeled. We all started laughing; we felt as if we had fallen 
a hundred yards and miraculously remained unhurt. 

I have no memory of Christmas and the New Year of 1945. My wife 
had given up keeping her diary. We were so surrounded with trials and 
tribulations — cold, earthquakes, air-raids, lack of news, total isolation, 
to say nothing of the police, who were nervous, tired, and irritable — that 



EED SKIES OVBE NAGOYA 407 

I expect we just awoke one morning and said to each other: Good 
gracious! Today’s Christmas!' The only good side of the situation was 
that we now all formed a united front; there was no longer time for 
squabbling among ourselves. 

We organized an efficient system for getting the news. Sometimes 
we found bits of old newspapers in the dustbin, but that was a chancy 
and primitive business. More effective, though more risky, was the 
system we devised of borrowing the newspaper from the police office, 
either shortly before we were roused in the morning or during the 
period of about ten minutes when the office was deserted while the 
police took their bath. As soon as the newspaper was in our hands it was 
quickly scanned by the missionary or by Somi, the essential news was 
translated by them or by others, written down on a piece of paper by 
Giorgio, anr* ‘inally commented on by the old diplomatist before the 
assembled community. Thus we were able to follow the progress of the 
war in east and west. 

One morning in October 1 remember being taken to hospital to 
have my finger attended to (because of malnutrition it would not heal). 
On the way back— I remember the exact spot, I saw it again this morning 
—1 suddenly heard my mother’s voice calling me. 1 turned, with tears 
in my eyes; 1 had understood. A year later 1 learnt that at that moment 
she had died in distant Italy. 

When January came the earthquakes diminished; the earth seemed 
tired and exhausted. But the raids went on, and some bombs fell pretty 
close. Later we discovered that a military establishment was hidden in 
a valley a few hundred yards away from us, and it was this that t<*e 
Americans were trying to hit. But human beings get used to anything; 
1 even have some striking memories of that terrible winter of my One 
of them is of going back to my room after a raid and seeing what looked 
like a strange red moon descending over the horizon; it seemed not 
a terrestrial spectacle at all. 1 might have been a visitor to another planet, 
watching some entirely unfamiliar phenomenon in the skies; and I 
think of some excursions into the Yagoto woods with the children; the 
sudden sense of liberty; hunting for food like wild animals-* berry, 
ferns, or wild tampcpo (chicory) leaves. Once we actually picked up 
a potato; it was like finding a«gold nugget Who could have dropped it 
there? For a long time we talked about the potato miracle. 



406 MEETING VITH JAPAN 

. At last March came; our supreme ordeal, and the supreme ordeal 
for Japan. The Americans had established themselves in a number of 
islands near the Japanese archipelago, among them Iwojima, and now 
air-raids could be expected in earnest. In fact, as soon as the offensive 
started, the big towns of Japan were totally destroyed in the space of 
a few weeks; all that was left of Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, Yokohama, 
was plains of green stones. 

Nagoya was systematically destroyed by fire in three raids on 
March n, 18, and 25. Each time the warning came at 9 p.m. In the silence, 
the total darkness of country and town, we could hear the announce- 
ments coming from the loudspeakers in the distance: ‘Many hundreds 
of aircraft expected. . . . Prepare for a heavy raid.’ The police put on their 
‘war paint’ as the children, who were very much impressed, put it— 
complete with steel helmets and big samurai swords, and we went down 
to the shelter with all the futon we could collect, hoping that a stray 
bomb would not fall on us now, so near the inevitable end. Towards 
midnight the air was filled with a powerful throbbing (‘the great breath 
of the world’, as Somi said, manicuring his nails and walking up and 
down in the garden, defiantly smoking a cigarette), and soon the first 
waves of B29S arrived. 

They no longer flew at a great height; the defence must by now 
have been so weak that they could afford the luxury of coming in at 
about 3,000 feet or even less. Every wave dropped a shower of incendi- 
aries, which landed with a sharp crackle, in strong contrast to the deep 
roar of high explosive. Meanwhile the city burnt, and the flames rose to 
the sky. Acres, square miles, of houses and huts, hundreds upon hun- 
dreds of tons of timber, blazed in one enormous bonfire, which lasted 
all night. For us cowering in our shelter the night passed with exas- 
perating slowness. The minutes seemed centuries. When so many air- 
craft had passed that it seemed no more could be left in the world, as 
many more approached, flying still lower in the smoky sky, lit up from 
below by the red glow of the burning town. At last a horrible silence 
descended, and a ghostly, bluish light appeared— the dawn. 

For us the worst of these raids was the last, when the part of Nagoya 
where the Tempaku stood— it was surrounded by suburbs on three 
sides— was destroyed. The first aircraft bombed one of the quarters 
immediately to the south; each wave dropped its bombs a little nearer. 



KED SKIES OVEK NAGOYA 


At one point we thought our turn had come; we held our breath; my 
wife and I nearly suffocated the poor children under th cfrttm ; but the 
wave passed over without dropping its bombs. The destruction was 
resumed on the other side of the hills. Several stray bombs fell near us, 
destroying houses and setting light to stretches of woodland. 

At dawn, when we went up to our rooms, once more we saw the 
extraordinary bluish light, the first effect of dawn on the night lit up by 
the orange reflection of the fires. The air was laden with smoke, and the 
horrible smell of burnt flesh (about 10,000 persons lost their lives in these 
raids). At the window, from which there was an excellent view of the 
blazing city, Dacia was standing and looking out; she had gone upstairs 
ahead of us. She was gazing at the tremendous spectacle as if turned to 
stone. ' Doshite , papa-chan, doshite?’ she kept sa)ing. (Why, father, Why!) 

One h' big raid took place at the beginning of April in daylight. 
Nagoya as a town was now dead, but there must have been something 
left to justify the effort. This time the aircraft flew low and went about 
their task in leisurely fashion, as if they were on a tourist flight, and took 
aim with infinite care. It was then that we saw some black dots in the 
sky which looked like insects because of the huge mass of the American 
bombers; these, we at once realized, were the suicide pilots in their 
death-machines. Immediately overhead, perhaps 3.000 feet up, we saw 
one of these insects making straight for a B29. The distance between 
them narrowed, disappeared, and they crashed. A red flame burst out 
in the sky, and the big bomber, a wing of which fell off and plunged to 
earth, started coming down, burning and exploding. While bombs, 
bodies, fragments of aircraft, fell earthward with what seemed tragic 
slowness, we heard a loud shout coming from the town, I imagine from 
thousands of throats: 9 Banzai!’ they shouted. 1 Banzai V 

Nagoya was now really reduced to cinders, and the raids ceased. 
Even Iyeyasu’s famous castle had been destroyed. One day the police told 
us that they were taking us into the country, ‘beyond Koromo’. We 
could not see the reason for this, now that everything was over, but the 
news gave us much pleasure. We had decided, among other things that 
it would not be advisable to be near a big town if the Americans landed; 
we did not know that orders had been given that in the event of an 
allied landing all prisoners, internees, and citizens of hostile countries 
should be killed without exception. 



Kosai-ji, ‘The Vast Salvation' 

It is strange that returning, whether physically or in one’s imagination, 
to a place where you have suffered severely fills you with a profound 
and far from disagreeable emotion, which you can describe only as 
religious; a feeling, that is to say, that here you were close to the great 
mystery; that here you were significantly in touch with the essence of 
things, with good and evil, time and non-time, life and death, love and 
hate; that here the thick veil of conventions and soft living which in 
ordinary times obscure them was torn away. 

Thus, when I left the Tempaku, I was too moved to be able to speak. 
Then, driving away from Nagoya, the sky cleared, and the country was 
so beautiful that the present came uppermost again ; for quite a distance 
we sang as we drove. We were making towards the mountains beyond 
Korome, to the Kosai-ji, the temple to which we were evacuated in 
April, IMS, where we remained until the war ended in September. 

At one point we noticed some curious sculpture at the roadside, 
near a farmhouse. This was so unusual that we stopped to look. A child 
came towards us and said: ‘There are more inside, come in.’ Thus we 
found ourselves in the house of a charming old peasant of about 
seventy, who received us with fresh and innocent hospitality. 

‘The idea of sculpting came into my head one day when I was 
fifty-seven,’ he told us. 

‘Indeed it did,’ his wife interrupted with a sigh. 

‘I did not know how to set about it, but fortunately I had some 
cement and some pieces of iron, so I started by sculpting in reinforced 
concrete.’ 

His wife brought us green tea and biscuits, and kept up a grumbling 
running commentary on her husband’s account of his absurd passion 
for art 

‘Come,’ he insisted, ‘let me show you my masterpiece!’ 

He took us into the tiny garden behind the house where there was 
a tall statue of Kwannon, again in reinforced concrete, modelled with 
freedom, intelligence, and gaiety. However, we preferred his self- 
portrait with bowler hat and haori (Photograph 31), because of its liveli- 
ness and the skill with which he handled the intractable material 

Beyond Koromo, an ugly village in the middle of a big valley, the 

410 



EED SUES OVEE NAGOYA 


m 

road grew more rural again, and we drove alongside a river, with a dyke 
and artificial lake, and soon caught sight of the Kosai-ji (Temple of the 
Vast Salvation*) at the foot of a wooded hill. 

The Kosai-ji constitutes one of the happiest memories ot my life. 
Not that things changed suddenly, or that we passed straight from the 
horrgrs of the Tempaku to an earthly paradise. We still suffered from 
hunger, cold, humiliations, but we felt that things were on the move; 
it was easier to supplement our rations, and above all we were at an 
extraordinarily beautiful spot. 

The road degenerated into a track, and the track into a path and, 
after passing the last houses of the village, we had to leave the car and 
walk. All the most delightful features of the }apanese countryside were 
concentrated in this valley. The rice-fields, which certainly yielded less 
than the r i regular fields on the plain below, were laid out on irre- 
gular terraces— some were only pocket-handkerchief size — on the 
surrounding slopes, which were crowded by wooded hills. Dotted about 
were farmhouses with thatched roofs (like those in Photograph 20), 
connected by paths which wound their way casually and unhurriedly 
through the countryside. 

On one side, where the slope was too steep for rice-fields, there was 
a group of ancient, twisted, vigorous, tall pines at the edge of a wood, 
in which clumps of cypresses (sugi) alternated with denser, less tidy, 
deciduous trees. There were some stone funerary pillars, ancient walls, 
and an arched gateway that marked the beginning of the long stairway 
that led to the temple. Nothing had changed. The wind sang in the 
pines. Nobody was about. Our footsteps re-echoed on the stone step*. 

We went down a short avenue flanked by mmiji ; the last red leaves 
still hung from the boughs. We reached the second gate, tidier, more 
elegant, better cared for than the first, and went through it into a court- 
yard, or rather cloister, bounded on three sides by various low buildings, 
and on the fourth, at the end facing us, by the temple itself. This was 
built essentially like a big farmhouse, with heavy, imposing, thatched 
roof (Photograph is). The sun suddenly came out and flooded the 
courtyard which, then as now, was half-cloister and half-farmyard; 
oats and liturgical instruments, agricultural implements and ecclesi- 
astical vestments, immediately struck the eye; the smell of earth 
mingled with the odour of incense. 



412 


MEETING WITH JAFAN 

‘Ard, Fuosuko-san!' a voice called from the entrance to the kitchen; 
the son of the former abbot had recognized me, and came over to greet 
us. He apologized for being dressed as a peasant; he explained that they 
had been ruined by the agrarian reform, and they had to work like 
horses to survive. We were invited inside to take tea with him. 

The temple belongs to the Soto branch of Zen, a more accoipmo- 
dating variety than the Rinzai, the acquaintance of which we made at 
Kyoto (Chapter 9). Priests are allowed to marry, and in the country they 
live a life not unlike that of an English farmer. Tn 1945 the hojo (abbot) of 
the Kosai-ji was an old man of about eighty, of magnificent appearance 
but somewhat irritable nature. His family consisted of his wife, an old 
lady of whom we saw little; their daughter; her husband, who was the 
old man’s adopted son; and their children. 

From the first day of our arrival we naturally tried to establish 
friendly relations with the hojd's family, hoping that we might be able to 
earn some extra food by working in the fields, chopping wood, etc. 
However, the police must have terrorized the old man, and for a long 
time all our attempted overtures were rebuffed. Also, for at least two 
months, we failed to find out who was really in charge of farm and 
temple; we were confronted with yet another example of delegation 
and re-delegation of power. At first we thought that the person in 
charge must be the old hojo, whom we used to see walking about, looking 
as impressive as a Chinese sage of the Ming dynasty, with his Greek 
philosopher’s head, his dry and decisive orders, his voice, which sug- 
gested a patriarch in full enjoyment of his powers. However, many small 
signs showed us that this was a mistake. The hojo, for instance, would say, 
with